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Month: March 2015

SLS Request, Reflect and Record

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.

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Information Governance

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.

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Introduction to Dutch


Hallo. In maart, voltooide ik de ‘Inleiding tot Nederlandse’ cursus aan de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen via FutureLearn. Ik studeerde ongeveer drie uur per week gedurende drie weken en leerde over introducties en hoe om te praten over familie, werk, studie en woon in Nederland.

Not work related, although I would love to live and work in the Netherlands one day, but the course was CPD and one of the purposes of this blog is to record and evidence my CPD. It was also very much learning which was enhanced with technology, indeed it’s difficult to imagine the same content being delivered effectively without the modern media-rich internet.

This was my first course on FutureLearn, fitting it in the little gap between my MA taught module and the dissertation which looms large, and I was very impressed with the platform and presentation. FutureLearn features a wholly responsive design which worked well on everything I fired it up on, and the course was structured in a clear, linear fashion broken up by weeks and items with each item composed of video, audio, exposition, a short MCQ, or any combination thereof. Each item had a checkbox to mark it as complete which fed into a live progress bar along the top of the site, a nice feature. All of the video and audio material could be downloaded for offline use, and transcripts were available as PDF documents, as was the exposition items and lists of vocabulary. Collaboration with tutors and other students was achieved by means of a moderated discussion board attached to the principle items.

Being a language course, there was a large amount of vocabulary and grammar to learn for which they used an optional external tool, Quizlet, to present the vocabulary lists and grammar rules as flashcards. Quizlet was the one part of the course material which I wasn’t terribly impressed with. For a long time now I have been a user and big fan of Memrise, a tool which performs a similar function but which combines flashcard type learning with memes to help you remember them. For example, to remember the meaning of ‘vindingrijk’ (inventive or resourceful) you can use the meme ‘The person who invented the vending machine was very resourceful‘. When learning a word or phrase on Memrise you are initially presented with the word, the meaning and you can either select or write a meme to help you remember it. Later, when reviewing or testing on what you have learned, you get either the word or meaning and have to translate it. This is a technique which I have found to work exceptionally well.

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Oculus Rift Development Opportunities


I had one of those really interesting and productive meetings yesterday with an outstanding academic that was brimming with possibilities and has filled me with ideas.

The academic in question teaches multimedia and game design and for the past year or so has been experimenting with the Oculus Rift in his teaching. I’ve been wanting to catch up with him to discuss his work since we acquired a Rift for the team back in December. He demonstrated some of the software which he has created which included a virtual walkthrough of our St Peter’s Campus, where he is based, and a driving game set in the streets of Newcastle. He was able to share some of his more complete work with me there and then so that I can take a more leisurely look back at my office. The screenshot is taken from the St Peter’s simulation and shows part of the exterior of the Design Centre. And a Dalek.

Then he gave me a quick overview of what it takes to develop software for the Rift, recommending we stick to the Unity engine for best ease-of-use to quality ratio, and Autodesk or SketchUp for 3D modelling which he said would actually be the most difficult and time consuming part of the process, as the models need to be very high quality – ‘game ready’ – meaning high polygon count and FPS. He has very kindly offered to visit the team and give us all a more in-depth one day crash course on everything we need to get started in May or June after his teaching has finished. Quid quo pro, I offered our services, Rift and a computer to run it when he attends open days and recruitment events.

Finally we discussed practical applications. Marketing applications are easy, and there are many events where we can, and will have a stall with the Rift set up to attract people over to us and then to start a discussion about what we can do for them. Applications to enhance teaching and learning are more difficult, though Keele University have done some good work in their School of Nursing and Midwifery. Some ideas we discussed included interactive 3D models of molecules for our Pharmacy department, mechanical equipment for our Engineering department, and a virtual gallery of work created by the National Glass Centre, though this is more of a marketing tool again. Equipment is another problem as there needs to be an appropriate amount of hardware for people to use, two Rift’s across the University is hardly sufficient. Of course departments can’t justify such an investment without having the appropriate software and concrete learning objectives ready to go.

We have a similar chicken and egg problem in the team in that none of us really have the necessary programming or 3D skills to develop for the Rift. In order for members of the team to be up-skilled for this we need to have a clear business case and a project to develop, but how do we attract such a project without the skills? And of course we have to do all of this in pretty short order in time to capture the zeitgeist surrounding VR at the moment.

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The Results Are In – I Passed!

Just a little aside from the hurly burly of work and TEL to celebrate the fact that I passed the taught module on my MA English which I am doing through the Open University.

This was a double-length module and was assessed by five TMAs (Tutor Marked Assignments) which were aggregated and one EMA (End of Module Assignment) which I had to pass separately. The EMA was 5,000 words, so my largest piece of academic writing to date, and bridges the gap between prescribed assignments and independent research; there were limited options on texts and research areas which I had to choose between and then write my own question and proposal. My EMA was ‘How does Kim engage with the increasing British interest in Tibet in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century?’ and I passed with my highest score on the module, quite an achievement given that, roughly speaking, students are thought to drop around 10% on an exam or EMA.

My dissertation module starts in May and my thinking is either something around abjection or the ‘unheimlich’ in Gothic / horror literature, or the response to Scottish politics by Burns and Scott.

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