As I shut down my work computer for the last time in 2020, I feel safe and far removed from the AI uprising that may one day doom us all. When Panopto’s automated closed captioning system can get my name right, then I may begin to worry.
Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes. Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash
I didn’t realise it at the time of booking, but the Gender Based Violence webinar I joined in October was the first of three. I was able to dip into the second session, but only very briefly as it clashed with teaching commitments. This final session focused on how FE and HE institutions can address GBV strategically, with special consideration on what we can do as staff and students are starting to return to campus following the Covid pandemic.
There were good discussions about the different impact on HE and FE institutions, as FE students don’t tend to attend campus as much or live in halls, and therefore don’t have access to the same level of social and institutional support as HE students; that universities and colleges need to realise and fully embrace the fact that they are not bubbles outside of society, but part of society, and that GBV is something that affects our students and staff, on and off campus; and in making the link between GBV and gender inequality, and how so often we place the burden of emotional labour to address problems on the people who are most affected by them and have the least to give. For evidence, one needs look no further than the makeup of the panel of these sessions and of most Athena Swan boards.
With regards to Covid and lockdown, instances of domestic abuse and gender based violence have increased as people are, or can feel trapped in unsafe domestic situations. Making resources and support available online is well and good of course, but the panel noted that these may not be accessible to people under coercive control, who’s internet access and phone use may be monitored covertly or even overtly.
Whew. Writing this, reflecting on this… it’s depressing and I fell powerless. There are some of those online resources here from the University of Strathclyde: GBV Cards, and a suggestion from the panel was to print out a version of this, the ‘Support for You’ page works, and give to staff and put around campus. There is also the complete Equally Safe in HE Toolkit available here: Equally Safe. The focus is on Scottish resources, as this is a project funded by the Scottish Funding Council.
Recording of the two case studies from today
My second Moodle Munch featured two presentations today, the first from Lisa Callaghan at Dublin City University Library who have used H5P to develop an interactive library skills tool, and the second from Ciara Reilly at the Marino Institute of Education who talked about their use of podcasting.
I really need to get H5P working in our Canvas. The tutorial Lisa has developed in H5P replaces a 2013 version made in Storyline, which itself replaced an earlier HTML / Flash version. However, the benefits of the new H5P version seem to come through the deployment of it using a Moodle plug-in called Subcourse which allows the library to create and manage the content centrally, and to get stats on it, a problem they had with the previous versions. I think it’s this method of pushing out content that’s really interesting. Within Canvas we could use Commons to similar effect, but this doesn’t automatically update the content, instead each course which has imported it from Commons gets a notification that a new version is available, and then the option to update. I got the impression that Subcourse in Moodle fully updates the content fully automatically. There was a useful discussion about the types of content that can be produced in H5P, and how accessible each tool and option is. Someone posted a link to this support document which breaks it down.
The second talk from Ciara was on various way of using podcasting to engage learners, such as delivering content in different formats to provide a break from screens, using it for audio feedback, and getting students to produce audio content which from their experience has helped students who are less confident writing to “find their voice”. Again, interesting debate on the pros and cons in the comments. It was interesting to note the increased use of podcasts during the pandemic, something I’ve found anecdotally and which colleagues here seemed to agree on. Ciara surveyed their own students and found that 52% reported listening to at least 4 podcasts per week. They also discussed the technology platforms they have experimented with, including Anchor.fm, Audacity, Vocaroo, and the native audio recording tool in Moodle’s Atto text box editor.
Recordings are available in the embedded YouTube above. They got that up quick, before I finished writing this! Makes me feel ashamed of the month-old draft blog post on my desktop about CanvasCon.
If you’ll indulge a rare non-work related post (though it is about technology and I did learn a lot, tenuous I know), I recently refurbished a Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP as a little lockdown project.
The whole Covid / lockdown situation hit me pretty hard back in March and April when it began, as I lost pretty much all of my hobbies – gigging, karate, cinema, travels – and then one by one everything fun I had booked in throughout the year, from a big once in a decade holiday, to new tattoo appointments, were all cancelled. Still, I am safe and well, my job is as secure as one can be in this age, and my loved ones are all pretty safe, so overall I’m not doing too bad and I pulled myself together. One of the hobbies which has grown to fill the void has been gaming, especially retro gaming, and my partner and I stumbled into a YouTube hole of people refurbishing Game Boys (this one by Odd Tinkering was the start!) So I thought I would have a little crack at that.
I chose the Advance SP because I wanted one system that would play all Game Boy games, plus I like small things. I was also hoping that the lighted display would be good, though I was mistaken on that. The starting point was a beat-up but functioning unit from eBay that I took apart, cleaned up all of the electronics with isopropyl alcohol, and then put back together in a new shell along with a new battery. I did make things somewhat complicated by deciding on a two-colour design with echoes of the original Game Boy and NES, which meant that I actually had to buy two new shells and, separately, two sets of button to get the red and black. But everything worked! And it was beautiful, until I turned it on and had to deal with the reality of that screen…
The model I purchased was the AGS-001 with a front-lit screen. There is a later model with a backlit screen, the AGS-101, but this only had a limited release in Europe and they go for about 100 quid on eBay, which was more than I wanted to spend (lol). Now, I had a Game Boy, Game Boy Colour, and the original Advance back in the day, and none of those had lighting of any kind, and I don’t recall being particularly unhappy with any of them. But how time and technology move on. That front lit screen is just absolutely unacceptable today. Pale, washed-out, terrible contrast. I wonder at how young Sonya coped!? Furthermore, there were a few blemishes on the screen, micro-scratches and dust motes that had gotten in between laters. So my refurb project ended up having a second, considerably more expensive phase – adding a modern IPS screen.
Replacing screens with IPS panels, or adding a backlight to the original DMG and Pocket models is very common in the community, but it does require a bit more work and expense. First of all the panels are typically about £60-70, then you need to make some hacks to the inside of the new plastic shells to make room for the larger components, and finally there is often some soldering work required too. In the case of the Advance SP, this is optional to add a brightness control to the panel, but of course that would be very nice. These are all things I didn’t want to do, least of all because I haven’t soldered anything since high school. Luckily for me, my most wonderful partner not only has mad soldering skillz, but a Dremel that made modding the shell so much easier. Once installed and reassembled for the second time it was gorgeous. The final step was adding a dodgy flash cart which lets me load any and all ROMS my heart desires – legally obtained of course, *cough, cough*. I was worried about battery life – that IPS and flash cart are big power draws, but I have stress tested it and got about 5 hours of life which is comparable to my 3DS.
And finally, my eBay purchase came with four games that I didn’t really care about, except for the mysterious Pokemon Green cartridge, a game that wasn’t released outside of Japan. A rare import? A dodgy cart? I was curious, but that along with two of the other four games didn’t work upon arrival, so it was back out with the screwdrivers and the trusty bottle of IPA. A little bit of scrubbing later and all of the carts came back to life. The inside of that Pokemon Green cartridge was a mess, cheaply put together and with no Nintendo or official branding anywhere, so definitely a fake. Playing the game revealed it to be a ROM dump of Pokemon Blue, with the word ‘blue’ on the title screen replaced with ‘green’. Nevertheless, it works. A very successful wee project all in all, even though it did end up being a tad pricey!
I’ve lost a module! And I don’t mean down the back of the sofa. A few years ago the University decided to reorganise how it delivers post-graduate courses, making all modules either 60 or 30 credits. As a result, the PG Cert in Academic Development had to undergo revalidation last year and my 20 credit Introduction to Digital Learning and Assessment module (EDPM08) has been discontinued, with much of it’s content and my teaching responsibilities being integrated into the new 60 credit module, EDPM10. I completed teaching with my fourth and final cohort of students on 08 back in July, and they have all now submitted and passed, though I still have three students from other cohorts with deferred or resubmissions to help through to completion over the next couple of months.
I’m going to miss my Module Leader role, but it’s been an invaluable experience that will serve me in good stead: two years, four cohorts, 41 students. And of course I do still have teaching on the new version, I just don’t get to do any of the fun admin stuff. I’ve actually just finished teaching my bit of EDPM10, which is what has prompted me to write this. I have three sessions on EDPM10, a theory-heavy contextual session about the role of digital technology in teaching, learning and assessment, and two practical workshops giving students guided hands-on experience with a range of what we hope are fun, easy to use, and useful tools.
After nine months of home working, the University has decided to mock me by making me do my display screen equipment training again. It even had a self-assessment section at the end which it made me complete on the basis of the equipment in the office I haven’t set foot in since March. As an act of rebellion I completed this training sprawled on the sofa with a laptop precariously balanced on my torso with a hot cup of tea to hand. This training stole 36 minutes of my life that could have been spent prepping for teaching next week, or playing Zelda.
I know, it’s serious and I shouldn’t be mocking it, but I’ve done this training so many times! And I’ll be honest, I did learn something new today – static electric shocks can be an indicator of low humidity. I got a question wrong for skimming over this in the training. I’m not sure I need to know this, but the factoid is now firmly embedded in my brain.
I guess I can look forward to my fire safety eLearning sometime soon now, and being thoroughly rebuked for not having multiple types of fire extinguisher in my apartment.
Recording of the two case studies from today
I’ve signed up for the winter series of Moodle Munches as I have taken on the admin of a Moodle install for a small charity I’m involved with, and I need to refresh my Moodle mojo! Moodle Munch is a series of monthly webinars which presents case studies on innovative use of Moodle, coordinated by Dublin City University.
The first presentation today was on extending the use of H5P to include student content production. H5P is a rich content creation tool, typically used by academics to create content for students to ‘consume’, but this project within a French language programme, wanted to involve students with creation and achieved this by first tasking them with updating content within a video provided by the programme leader, and then by sourcing their own video and annotating it using H5P. Students for the most part reported this being a positive experience, which included side benefits of improving digital and analytic skills. Going forward they are going to try changing the user interface of H5P to French, so that all work and instructions are conducted in French, as students from this cohort reported that switching from their work and the instructions, French, to the UI of H5P, English, was incongruent. All of this work was facilitated through the university’s Moodle and Mahara integration where H5P content was hosted and student work submitted.
The second presentation highlighted three different ways that content written in Word can be easily imported to Moodle via a couple of plugins which convert the Word content to HTML Moodle pages. First, a simple Word document was imported using the Atto text editor, Moodle’s default. The second was the same or similar process but imported a full 250 page ‘book’ written in Word which Moodle converted to a series of structured pages with navigation – very impressive! And finally importing a Word document to the Moodle quiz tool, with all question options and feedback in a structured table. Word templates to facilitate all of these imports are available online at Moodle2Word.net. All three of these demonstrations seemed to work really well, but of course are reliant on well structured Word documents as the input source. This approach benefits academics as it is often easier to work in Word to create material, and benefits students as the resulting HTML pages in Moodle are more easily accessible and navigable.
Both presentations were recorded and you can watch them in the embedded YouTube video.
The Barcarolle from Les Contes d’Hoffmann, one of my favourite arias (see? I’m not just a metal-head!)
Today’s accessibility session covered the importance of using properly nested headings to improve page structure and navigation, especially for people using screen readers who particularly rely on structure for navigation. Also discussed was using a table of contents with links to the content in Word / PDF documents, again to improve navigation. And finally, which was fairly new to me, the WAI-ARIA guidelines – that’s Web Accessibility Initiative, Accessible Rich Internet Applications, for the acronym averse. This is a set of standards for marking up HTML5 web content to improve accessibility, especially web apps.
Silhouetted peace signs. Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash
Today I attended an Advance HE webinar on gender based violence, not directly related to my core work, but something which everyone should have some education on. This was a panel discussion led by colleagues in Scotland, where the approach to education and prevention of GBV in HE and FE institutions is tackled more holistically than in England, where it tends only to be seen through a criminal justice lens.
The session began with a definition of gender based violence from James Lang, as “any form of violence used to establish, enforce or perpetuate gender inequalities and keep in place the gendered order. Gender based violence is a policing mechanism.” A good definition which is inclusive of the violence which can be directed towards the LGBT+ community who face particular forms of violence such as outing and being denied access to medical treatment. There was a good comment about the LGBT+ community being targets of violence because we are “doing gender wrong”.
The discussion moved on to talk about the Equally Safe in Higher Education initiative which is being piloted at the University of Strathclyde. This is a toolkit of resources designed for HE and FE institutions to help approach and address the issue, including things such as how to educate staff and students, and how to design inclusive and supportive policies. The website is well worth a good read, and contains numerous helpline and links out to other organisations that can help.