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Category: 2015

New CMALT Page

Keen-eyed observers will note the new CMALT page on my blog. My portfolio is now three years old and due for review as per ALT’s new guidelines which have come into effect this year. I had assumed that my portfolio would need to be reviewed first before my membership could, or would be renewed, but I’ve just found out today that the review process is actually still in pilot.

In any case, in preparation for this, and as a first step, I have converted my original portfolio from 2012 from a Word document to a webpage hosted here. In doing so I have changed no content whatsoever as it is a historical document, but I have removed the guidance notes and instructions which formed a part of the Word proforma and removed the need for the appendix of evidence by creating inline links to the evidence, all of which is also now hosted on this site.

I did consider using Google Sites or creating the portfolio in Mahara, but I don’t like the results of content produced using Google Sites and both of these options restrict my freedom in different ways. Part of the benefit of having this website is that I have complete control and freedom to do what I want and have no concerns about access in the future. Interestingly, in 2012 I hosted all of my evidence in my personal Content Collection area in Northumbria’s Blackboard and I have found that everything still works, even though presumably my IT account has long since been deleted. Nevertheless, it will all disappear at some point. A further reason for hosting my CMALT portfolio here is because I have known about the need for this review for some time and built my blog with this in mind, and I anticipate that I will be citing many of the posts as evidence. I have presented the portfolio as a flat page rather than creating sub-pages for each section as it matches the design of my other pages and because I am a fan of flat, minimalistic design and navigation. My concession to the fact that it is a large piece of work has been to create an internal navigation menu at the top of the page and included links back to this after each section.

The next step will be to complete the new review sections but I will wait for guidance from ALT on when this is going to be due rather than ploughing ahead. I have however created the required headings and placeholder text based on the guidance documents that have been published on ALT’s website as I think they are unlikely to change much now.

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Clearing Procedures

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.

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Clearing Live Chat Training (LiveLeader)

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.

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Summer Graduation Ceremonies

graduation_videos

We had our summer graduation ceremonies a couple of weeks ago which we in Web and Learning Technology Services live streamed. The live streaming service is something that we developed in-house at the back end of last year and was first piloted at the winter graduation ceremonies in December. The system was put together by members of the Web Team, who did all the back-end work, and the AV specialist in Learning Technology who arranged the hardware and helped to get the integration with our streaming media server working.

As well as being streamed live the cameras also record to their memory cards for us to edit and post to the media server after the event. This is normally done by our AV guy, but, immediately following graduation week, he went off work for nearly a month to get married. The priorities of some people, eh? So I volunteered to do the editing and uploading. A bit of a mundane task, but I actually enjoyed watching the little bits of the ceremonies I did and I got to get some hands-on experience with Adobe Premiere Pro. To date all of the movie editing I have done has been in iMovie, basically because I am a Mac user and it’s just there, and it has always done what I needed of it. It wasn’t good enough for this job however, as I wanted to manually specify the file format, the size and the bit rate used for encoding for compatibility with Helix and to control file sizes, features that Apple has simplified out of existence in the latest versions of iMovie. I almost wrote ‘inexplicably’ there to describe Apple’s foolishness, but the reason is perfectly clear, to make it easy for end users. There is no getting away from the complexity of export options in Premiere, but sometimes you need that complexity and Apple don’t seem to be interested in that segment anymore. It’s not just iMovie, they haven’t been getting the balance right between ease of use and power features in their software for a number of years now and I don’t see that trend getting better.

But I digress. As well as trimming the videos I also had to flatten the audio to make them mono as the left sound channel picked up almost nothing for some reason. I don’t know if this is something I can do in iMovie, I’ve never had the need before, but it was simple to do in Premiere. All of the recordings are now available here and you can see more videos and photos by following the Twitter hashtag #hawaythegrads.

In a separate query, while I was busy doing this work I picked up a job for a customer who wanted a colleague at a partner institution in Malaysia to share some recorded lectures with them and of course I recommended the streaming server as the best tool for the job. Normally we would get people in to the office to give them a quick run-through of how the system works, but Malaysia is a long way to travel, so I ended up having to put together a short help guide on how to do this as we didn’t have any documentation.

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Immersive Interactive Demonstration

Attended a live demonstration of a fully interactive system from Immersive Interactive which our Faculty of Applied Sciences could be interested in purchasing. The system is designed to simulate as closely as possible any given scenario in a safe place. One of the examples they demonstrated was for paramedic training and included scenes set at accidents, inside an ambulance and then in a hospital. Our Faculty is interested in using it to simulate a pharmacy and other health related scenarios.

It works by using a combination of projectors, touch screens, Kinect sensor bars for motion control and voice recognition, surround sound speakers and a smoke / smell machine. It all runs off a fairly standard PC and a tablet for control. Anything can be projected onto the screens but 3600 video footage generates the best results and the system includes a 3600 camera made up of 6 GoPros for recording and creating your own scenarios. The pop-up demonstration here was limited to three three metre screens but when permanently installed in a room it can project onto all four walls and the floor, and can even be set up as rear-projection for a better effect, though this of course requires a lot of additional space.

I was fairly impressed by it, I can see a lot of potential in systems like this and, of course, the ultimate goal is a proper holodeck! It has the advantage over virtual reality systems like the Oculus Rift in that multiple people can be present in the room and it isn’t blocking out external reality completely (though that could be seen as a plus). In the short to medium term I think both approaches have their strengths and are worthy of development. Of course, none of the hardware used here is special and one of my colleagues thinks we could put something like this together ourselves, but getting it all to work together smoothly is the difficult bit and that is what Immersive Interactive provides – service and software. But it’s not cheap, and they are only just expanding into FE and HE now. Only six FE/HE institutions have purchased the system to date, with the oldest being installed around four months ago. So, no research yet into the impact and effectiveness which is what is really needed before making such a big commitment.

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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.

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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.

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Enterprise Reporting

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.

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Academic Year Rollover

We are now in the final stages of preparatory work for the academic year rollover on the VLE, SunSpace. This has been a big job this year, and a difficult and somewhat stressful one for me. For the past three years at Sunderland, since we moved to LearningStudio, as part of the rollover we have copied content from the previous version of all module spaces to the new ones en masse, a process that was, compared to Blackboard, fast and effortless. However, it did have the problem of perpetuating bad practice and design. In an effort to improve the quality of module sites this year our Academic Board decided that instead of rolling over content the new sites for 2015/16 would be created from a template. Although they issued guidance on what that template should contain, exact details of how to implement this fell to me. Putting something together that made everyone ‘happy’ was not a joy.

The end result is, I think, a considerable improvement on the template that was used in previous years for new modules, but I would have liked to have done so much more with it. There are two distinct parts to the new template. First of all there are placeholder items for all of the items that Academic Board specified should be in the template and these contain information and guidance to help academics update them. Secondly there is a hugely expanded section for staff help, and a new section for student help that is almost as large. The design is very basic, deliberately so, as I didn’t want content that academics create to not match the set items that were pre-prepared, and realistically most will only use the basic functionality. However, there are some items in there that are designed to either help academics improve the visual appearance of their modules, such as some generic icons, and others that show-off what can be done in SunSpace such as a collapsable accordion menu and embedded content items including content from our streaming media server and external sources such as ThingLink.

One final thing we did was to turn off, by default, all of the tools which don’t work as they should for one reason or another. I was able to get consensus from the team on this one. They are all still there if people really want to use them, but we hope they won’t. In the staff help section there is a page dedicated to the various SunSpace tools where I have explained why these particular ones are turned off and advising people on what to use instead to achieve the same ends in a better way.

To support staff with the changes to the rollover process I have also arranged a training and publicity programme that includes emails, announcements, an article on the University’s blog, US Online, and a series of workshops supported by roaming sessions that will run over the next couple of weeks, to be repeated again at the start of September.

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OERs: Using Free, Shared, Information Literacy Resources

rose_bowl_building

“The what and how of using, re-writing and sharing Open Educational Resources in HE and FE library contexts”. A one day conference run by the Yorkshire and Humberside Branch of the Academic and Research Libraries Group and hosted at Leeds Beckett University (in the Rose Bowl building, above).

Who Needs a Repository When You’ve Got Google?
Nick Sheppard – Repository Developer, Leeds Beckett University
http://www.slideshare.net/MrNick/cilip-oer

Nick started his presentation by exploring the differences between the Green and Gold models of open access publication of research papers and the current recommendations of the Finch Report and HEFCE, and the implications on library departments, particularly the potential for additional costs. He then moved on to demonstrate an OER resource he has created in Xerte, an interactive exploration of the SCONUL Seven Pillars model of information literacy, itself based on Creative Commons licensed OERs he found in Jorum. (And an hour later the news broke that Jorum would soon be no more!)

CoPILOT: What Can We Do For You?
Nancy Graham – Research Support and Academic Liaison Manager, London School of Economics

Nancy led a discussion on how to convince academics to use OERs and contribute their own materials to repositories. Challenges and barriers we identified included where to find suitable materials, concerns about quality, and relevance to their subject areas. Nancy then shared some of her research into reasons why people choose to use OERs which included personal recommendations from colleagues, reputation of the repository and relevance to their subject area, and clear Creative Commons license indicating allowed re-use. Finally Nancy told us about the Lilac Credo Award for Digital Literacy and recommended we put any good uses of OERs forward for consideration.

Skills@Library: Using and Creating OERs
Helen Howard – Learning Services Team Leader, University of Leeds
http://www.slideshare.net/hehoward/oers-at-skillslibrary

Helen gave us an overview of the Skills for Learning provision at the University of Leeds and shared their experience in developing their resources. Considerations included identifying core skills which all students should have and how best to present the Skills for Learning material to those students. From their experience Helen recommended working with academics to embed the Skills for Learning materials in student’s core curriculum, ideally linked to learning outcomes and including an element of assessment. All of their materials were published as OERs accompanied by lesson plans and notes on how to use them.

OERs for People With no Technical Skills and No Money
Sarah George – Subject Librarian, University of Bradford
http://www.slideshare.net/sgeorge71/creating-oers-with-no-technical-skills-and-new

Sarah presented an extended case study of their experience developed OERs in very short timescales and with no budget. One thing they tried was re-purposing OERs from other institutions and Sarah discussed some of the problems they experienced, including the difficulty in removing the branding from certain types of document, such as PDFs, and the inability to do any kind of editing of others, such as those created with Storyline. One tool they used successfully was SlideGo, an online tool that converts PowerPoint files into HTML5 web presentations, to good effect according to Sarah. Something else which she demonstrated was a home-made method of doing simple quizzes in PowerPoint by utilising internal links applied to objects and shapes.

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