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Author: sonya

ALT Winter Conference 2019

Request Map for this blog homepage showing the links out

Participated in ALT’s online winter conference this year, joining five sessions over the two days:

  • Embodying Leadership as a Learning Technologist, Evan Dickerson
  • Allowing Art and Design students to choose their type of session, Jennifer Dettmer
  • MoodleNet: Federated, resource-centric social networking for educators, Doug Belshaw
  • A Review of Privacy and Edtech Tools, Gavin Henrick
  • Learning Design Bootcamp, Catherine Turton

The introduction and preview of MoodleNet was very informative and quite exciting. I was expecting a Mastodon clone, but instead it looks like it’s going to be more of a next generation open education repository. It looked very similar to Canvas Commons, but of course Moodle based and will be able to plug in to other LMSs, including Canvas. Using ActivityPub, it should also be possible to talk to and share resources with other ActivityPub based federated networks such as Mastodon and PeerTube.

I also very much enjoyed the talk with Gavin Henrick about the ethics of having students use freemium online learning tools that, like almost everything on the web now, gather personal data to be sold directly or indirectly to advertisers. One of the tools he introduced us to was Request Map Generator, which will test any website you throw at it and produce a map showing the outgoing connections from that site. Out of curiosity and in the interests of fairness I ran my blog through it and you can see the results above. I use the Shareaholic plugin to add the social media sharing buttons to my content, so I was expecting a lot of connections going out to them, and having embedded a few YouTube videos into some posts there is also a connection out to many, many Google sites, including a huge blob to their DoubleClick ad network.

The web has for a long time now been a compromise between freedom of access, quality, convenience and privacy, driven by the advertising business model. Do I get the balance right on my sites? You’ll never see an ad on here – I run WordPress on my own server – but I do include the sharing buttons because I want people to be able to easily share out my content. I stripped Google analytics off the site a couple of years ago, it didn’t add any great value, but I have taken to embedding videos from YouTube for educational and entertainment value because I as conscious of my blog being very text heavy.

Recordings of all session webinars are available on the conference programme page on ALT’s website.

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Instructure Accessibility Webinar

U Do It Logo

Joined Instructure’s accessibility webinar this afternoon to learn more about what they are doing on the accessibility of Canvas. With regards to the product itself, quality assurance developers assess the accessibility of new features throughout development, then they work with an external agency, WebAIM, to complete their VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) to comply with US legislation.

With regards to content, they provide an accessibility checker tool which I learned today wasn’t their own thing, but UDOIT, an open source tool developed by the University of Central Florida. This can check web content, but not files like PowerPoint and Word documents like Blackboard Ally can. Instructure have also recently added Microsoft’s Immersive Reader as a beta feature, which will hopefully become a permanent addition.

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ALT NE User Group – November 2019

Photo of an IBM 360 Mainframe Computer

Photo of an IBM System 360 outside our room

Attended the ALT North East User Group today at Newcastle University. This meeting was themed around accessibility which was suggested after Jisc’s talk at our last meeting and the dawning realisation about how much work this could have on learning technology departments.

All attending institutions gave an update on what we are doing to ensure that we meet our obligations, ranging from panicked nothing to creating fully custom eLearning packages for delivering maths learning resources digitally and online – that from Newcastle University who have developed a solution using a combination of open source packages including MathJax and Pandoc. East Durham College’s virtual reality sensory rooms to support students on the autistic spectrum with overstimulation was really impressive. One of the things they’re using is SafeSpace Easy Access, a freemium Cardboard compatible virtual reality app.

Another highlight of the day came from an external guest from Blackboard who demonstrated Ally working in Canvas. Ally is a tool that can not only check course content for accessibility issues – not just web content, but materials including Word, PDF and PowerPoint files – but automatically convert that content into a range of different formats to meet different access needs. For example, it can perform optical character recognition (OCR) on PDF files which are scanned images, turning them into text, and convert text to speech.

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Resuscitation Quality Improvement System


Demonstration of the RQI System

I had a meeting this morning with our paramedic programme team about how to integrate various distinct systems they have into a new digital Practice Assessment Document to replace the multiple binders full of paper which trainee paramedics have to assemble at the moment. I have some thoughts on this which I’m sure I’ll write about in future as this comes together, but for today I just wanted to share the Resuscitation Quality Improvement system I saw, which is another one of those quite fabulous, albeit niche, technologies we have scattered around the university.

RQI is a mannequin made by Laerdal Medical that is used for training people to perform CPR, but this one has over 40 sensors inside it hooked up to a computer that gives you realtime feedback on things like how regular and deep your chest compressions are. It’s great! Watch the attached video to see it in action.

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Authorship Investigate Demo

Had another demonstration of Turnitin’s new Authorship Investigate tool today. This time they came to visit us for the benefit of our head of service.

Further to what I’ve written about this before, new features or things I’ve learned today includes the fact that this isn’t integrated into either the VLE or Turnitin’s Feedback Studio which we currently use, but rather is a standalone application that only nominated individuals would have access to. This would typically be people working in academic misconduct departments who could use Authorship Investigate as a tool to help their investigations. Turnitin are, however, working on a kind of early warning system that could be used to identify papers which have potentially been procured through contract cheating / essay mill services, similar to the existing similarity report. Academics could then ask for those papers to be investigated further. This is, however, some way off at this time.

Some new things Authorship Investigate can use in checking papers includes citation styles, font and text styles, and the language of the document, e.g. UK / US English, and whether or not this has been changed or doesn’t match previously submitted papers by the student in question.

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Medial Version 6 Demonstration and 7 Preview

Photo of a video camera in the foreground, background blurred outPhoto by Kushagra Kevat on Unsplash

This morning we had a visit from our account managers at Medial to give us a demonstration of the new version of Medial which we will be upgrading to imminently, and to discuss future developments. Version 6 provides new video editing options, the ability to batch import and apply metadata to videos, improvements to the live streaming part of the system, and the various options which are now available for adding closed captions to videos – either machine transcription or more accurate, but much more expensive, human services. The player has also been updated to add variable playback rate, from 0.5x to 2x speed.

We also discussed the practicalities of integrating Medial into Canvas, especially now that we also have reVIEW (Panopto) which has overlapping functionality, and some further changes planned for their next release.

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Speedwell Training

Well, that took a while, but we are finally ditching our antiquated EDPAC forms for high stakes MCQ style exams, and we didn’t go for either Examsoft or Respondus, but Speedwell.

This was our main training session on the system where we had a trainer from Speedwell onsite for the day to run through all aspects of the system with us, from initial configuration to creating questions and exams. We will also be deploying the Safe Exam Browser as part of this project.

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Multiple Mini Interviewer Training Module

I made a thing. And it feels like a long time since I made a thing, and I like showing off the things I make, so I hereby present to you a thing.

This specific thing is an online Multiple Mini Interviewer training module. The University’s new Medical School is in partnership with Keele University who have supplied us with the initial range of teaching materials, including their MMI training module for staff who will be interviewing applicants.

Last year we used their training as provided due to very short timescales, but for this year I was asked to re-create it with Sunderland branding, style and contextualising. It was a fun one, as I had to work out how to create reveal style effects when people click on buttons in Storyline. Still patiently waiting on Storyline 3 here… this will likely be the first thing I convert to the new version.

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Module Leader Development Session

Had a short, informal session with my line manager and programme leader about various aspects of the University’s processes around being a module leader and the new responsibilities I have. I found it really useful to get more details about things like completing reports for the external examiner and the required paperwork for our module boards which are imminent.

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The Life and Death of Mozilla Backpack

Unsplash BadgesPhoto by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash

I received an email yesterday informing me that Mozilla Backpack will be shutting down, which has been known for some time, with ownership of the Backpack moving to Badgr. There was also an attachment in the email which it said was all of my old badges, along with instructions on how to create a new account in Badgr. There were a number of problems with this. First, not all of the badges I’ve earned over the years were in that zip file, only, I think, ones which were attached to one particular email address. There were also no instructions at all about what to do with this file. In the end I was able to work out how to import these into Badgr, but for around half of them this process failed.

Like all DRM schemes, which is essentially what underlines the validity of digital badges, the whole system is unintuitive and very user unfriendly. One of the claims about digital badges has always been that you would be able to have all of your badges in one place, which was meant to be the Backpack, but this has never been my experience and I have badges scattered all over the place. The only online location where they are all collected together in any form is on this blog, tagged Badge. I want to like digital badges, I always thought they were a good idea, but however well intentioned, it’s always felt like kind of a mess, and it’s not getting any better.

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