ALT Accessibility Webinar

Joined the ALT South webinar on online learning materials and accessibility, in which Tharindu Liyanagunawardena, Chair of the Online Learning Research Centre‚Äč at the University College of Estate Management, presented a case study of their experience in adapting online learning materials to improve accessibility for students. This was initially in response to students who were having difficulty with particular items within a MOOC, but the lessons learned were adapted and implemented in new templates which were subsequently shared across the institution.

There was some discussion about Blackboard Ally, a tool, or ‘revolutionary product’ according to Blackboard, which can validate the accessibility of learning materials and in many instances convert them into alternative formats such as audio, electronic Braille, and ePub. Ally is available for multiple VLEs, not just Blackboard Learn.

The webinar was also my first experience of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Well, it’s certainly an improvement as it no longer uses Java, unfortunately is uses Flash instead. I would hope that that is a stopgap measure in the transition to HTML5, but with Blackboard who knows. In keeping with the theme of the webinar, there was mention of a feature in Collaborate Ultra which allows an individual to enter live closed captions. That is a nice feature.

Analytics 2 Webinar and Consultation

Attended a webinar for a demonstration of the new version of Analytics currently being developed for Canvas. The new version will bring a new look and make it easier for staff to get an overview of student performance in their modules and how it compares with other students. This is still in the early stages of development and the webinar was also to gain my feedback. What I think is missing from the demonstrated design is the ability to view and compare a student’s performance across different assignments in the same module, which was noted and should be fairly easy to implement, and across different modules in the same programme, much more difficult due to the way different institutions manage the relationship between programme and module spaces. With that in mind I have a follow up call next week to discuss how we would like to see this work, which is part of a broader consultation Instructure is having with the UK HE sector to better meet our needs in this area.

Blueprint Courses Webinar

Watched a webinar recording explaining how the new(ish) Blueprint Courses tool works in Canvas. This is the tool that allows a kind of parent – child relationship between courses which gives you the ability to add and update content in the parent course and push it into any children. Potentially very useful to us here as Sunderland has multiple instances of courses for our various campuses and partner institutes.

Blueprint Courses was released just before we went live with Canvas in June, but not in time for us to test and integrate into our deployment plans. Instead, we created a ‘Master’ occurrence of every module with no student enrolments which gave staff a space to create the generic content which can then be copied into each live occurrence, but it’s a manual process. Blueprint Courses could give us a more elegant solution, or it could be used by us to control and deploy the university module template. Can it be used for both though, a Blueprint course deployed into another Blueprint course? That would allow us to use the tool for both purposes. Something to experiment with.

CMALT Webinar for New Assessors

cmalt_badge

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have experienced the pleasure of my little rant as technology utterly failed me for this webinar, but I was at least able to get the recording working a little while later. (I will not be defeated by Java!) It was a very enlightening session on the process and practicalities of assessing the portfolios of CMALT candidates. I’ve actually already done my first one for a portfolio review a few weeks ago, so this was timely, and I have as a result of this webinar now signed up to become an assessor of regular portfolios too.

Unrelated, but ALT have also recently released digital badges for use in portfolios, email signatures, etc. Not actual accredited digital badges with metadata, just nice image files.

Canvas On-Boarding Webinars

Participated in a series of webinars delivered over three days which covered everything we needed to know to get started with our shiny new Canvas VLE.

The webinars were divided into three topics, admin, support and fundamentals. The admin session was an introduction to the administration of Canvas, something we haven’t really seen before, while the fundamentals sessions, the bulk of the training, covered pretty much every other aspect of the system. Together these sessions have given us a good grounding to get started with the deployment of Canvas, and will be followed up with more comprehensive onsite training in a few weeks.

Our contract with Instructure includes their Tier 1 support package which means that they will be taking all of the customer support queries from our staff and students. The support webinar was an introduction to this, covering how their systems and processes work, and how we will access their call logging system to pick up anything that can’t be resolved directly. Happily they are using JIRA, a system I know well.

Medial Version 5 Preview

Caught up with the recording of Medial’s preview of version 5 of their product from November on YouTube. It will bring improvements to the quality of video playback, which now defaults to the highest your internet connection and device can handle, and the player has switched to HTML5 by default, though Flash remains available to support the live streaming function and for users stuck on older devices.

A new feature is the ability to watch videos at 2x speed, a feature Rob was skeptical about but which people do want and will find useful. Teachers and admins now get more detailed stats on what people have been watching, the ability to set chapters to private or public, improvements to the live streaming and screen recording functions, and integration with Canvas. Live streaming is also now available to all users, not just system admins anymore, and can be done via an app for iOS and Android.

Brightspace Webinar

Following on from our webinars and demonstrations of other VLE systems of late, I arranged for the team to gather round to watch a recorded webinar of Desire2Learn’s Brightspace platform, the final major commercial VLE provider for us to investigate. It had to be a recording as their live webinars all take place during unsociable hours, though they helpful record them all. Very unhelpfully they are using Adobe Connect which took over 15 minutes to get working today, spanning three different browsers, two attempts at installing the plug-in – admin account required, thank you very much! – before finally getting it going in Chrome this time. (I could rant about the appalling state of web conferencing software until the cows come home, then rant about it some more to them.)

The webinar I picked out as possibly the most useful for us, with none of us having any prior experience with Desire2Learn or Brightspace, was an overview and demonstration of their latest major release, Autumn 2015. Our collective option is that it looks very much like a version 2 of LearningStudio, which unfortunately sets off alarm bells for us. The ‘Learning Paths’ feature which was demonstrated allows instructors to restrict access to certain content until students have completed set criteria. This looks really nice but it is something even LearningStudio can do, and actually does pretty well, and I know that Blackboard Learn has had functionality like this for quite some time. Another nice looking feature was the ability for students to check off completed items and see a progress bar along the top of their course site. This is something that has actually been requested by our academics and would go down really well, I think it’s a great feature for students, but I do have questions about how well it works in a dynamic context when academics are adding and modifying content throughout the duration of the course. It all seems to point towards a course delivery model rather than a VLE. It seems to be a very US way of working, and it’s making me think that perhaps that’s the reason why Desire2Learn have yet to achieve any significant market penetration in the UK. LearningStudio is a course delivery platform, and our attempts to use it as a VLE have not been successful. We do not want to be repeating that mistake.

What we saw of the admin part of the system looks good, as did the virtual text box editor which I think was TinyMCE. There is also the ability to drag and drop files which are them displayed onscreen, inline with other content, similar to how Microsoft Office and PDF files can be added in LearningStudio, though with highly variable results. The demonstration also showed how to set up rules and alerts to monitor student engagement on a course and send automated alerts to them, a very nice feature. Desire2Learn does have a great reputation for learning analytics by all accounts.

We didn’t see any of the quiz or assignment tools, and there was no mention of plugins or LTI support which is crucial for us to use Turnitin. The presenter repeatedly emphasised the ease of use and flexibility of the system, but all we saw of this was the ability for users to manipulate modules (blocks of content) and instructors to customise the background and appearance of individual course sites, very routine and unimpressive stuff these days. The whole thing was lacking a bit of a wow factor. Though, as one of my colleagues pointed out, the fact that it sort of looks like a version 2 of LearningStudio could actually be a good thing, making the transition easier for our academics and students.

Adobe Captivate Prime Webinar

Attended a webinar demonstration of Adobe’s new LMS solution, Captivate Prime. Eventually. The webinar was delivered via Adobe Connect which required installation of a plugin on our meeting room computer, which then wouldn’t launch in Firefox. By the time we got it working through Internet Explorer (ugh) we were 5 minutes late. It’s not a good start when you’re trying to sell one product, using another of your products, which doesn’t work at all well. It’s also troubling me, writing about it with hindsight, that it actually wasn’t a demonstration, but a static presentation. That’s not an approach I approve of. If you want to sell people your cake, give them a taste!

Captivate Prime looks to be a fairly slick course delivery platform, and thus an LMS in a broad sense, but it falls a long way short of what I would expect an LMS / VLE to deliver. There are no tools for interaction for example, no chat tool, no discussion board, but some developments in this area are promised to be coming soon. There is also no LTI support, and no integration with Turnitin or student management information systems. In fairness, Adobe are not targeting education institutions at the moment, only the business market, and for that kind of thing where a traditional didactic pedagogy is appropriate, the dreaded compulsory fire safety training that organisations compel you to complete every few years for example, it looks like it would be a pretty good solution. The one part of the system which did impress me was the extensive reporting options for monitoring learners’ progress.

Speaking of course delivery platforms, another one I’ve had a look at lately is LearnDash, a comprehensive plugin for WordPress that turns it into an LMS with support for courses, quizzes, certification, forums, reporting, and many other things you would expect an LMS to provide. It reminded me a lot of FutureLearn, but actually more comprehensive, and much closer to being able to function as a fully-fledged VLE than Captivate Prime. Indeed, there is at least one UK FE institution, West Cheshire College, using it as their VLE to support around 2,000 students. You can read the case study on Jisc’s website here (PDF, 217 KB).

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?

Experience Better Tutoring Webinar

Or, to give it it’s proper title, “Creating an Effective Environment for Personal Tutoring and Research Supervision”. This was part of PebblePad’s 2015 webinar series ‘Experience Better’ and was delivered by Ian Palmer of the University of Sheffield who presented their experience with using PebblePad in their Doctoral Development Programme.

PebblePad was adopted around five years ago in order to inculcate reflective practice in students, encourage personal and professional development, and to reduce paperwork. Feedback has been very positive, with Ian reporting very few technical queries from either students or staff, but did note that for maximum effectiveness PebblePad was not just taught to students in a one-off session, but was fully embedded in the programme. PebblePad is now being deployed more widely throughout the university following this success.

A particular benefit which Ian reported was the submission of regular updates from students, their training needs analysis and supervisory meeting reports, to ATLAS, where staff on the team where able to monitor progress and provide early intervention if any students were identified as potentially struggling. This has helped to break down the old ‘secret garden’ model of student / supervisor relationships.

This was an excellent case study demonstrating how ePortfolios have been used to improve a programme for both students and staff, but I was also keen to attend today for a couple of other reasons. First of all, although we use Mahara at Sunderland, I was very heavily involved in supporting PebblePad at Northumbria, especially towards the end of my time there, and am keen to keep current with developments. Leading on from this, Sheffield are piloting a couple of new PebblePad features which the webinar promised to discuss a little. These are the new Home screen which replaces the current minimalist screen with a dashboard of recent activity and tasks which are due, and Flourish which offers to provide a defined pathway for students through a programme, with tasks and milestones which will help guide them, while also giving staff a better way of supervising their progress. I took a couple of screenshots of these features from the webinar, so apologies for the low quality.

http://www.pebblepad.co.uk/seminars/web062015/