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Tag: ALT

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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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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ALT Webinar: Equality in Learning Technology

The Glass Ceiling

Another good webinar, two in a row, crikey, this one more for the ideas and thoughts it stimulated. So, ALT’s annual survey results came out in February, findings here, and this webinar was a follow-up discussion on a new area of focus for ALT, equality.

The webinar explored the differences in answers between survey responders who identified as male or female*, and asked questions about why there are those differences. For example, on the question of ‘What are the enablers / drivers for learning technology?’, there were significant differences in ‘Dedicated time’, which was ranked less important for women, and ‘Recognition for career development’, which women scored much higher than men. Maren and Martin then went on to discuss representation in ALTs governance and leadership (good, fairly balanced), and other areas including honorary lifetime member awards (very poor – 6 male, 2 female).

Slide 23, which I’ve cheekily screenshoted and annotated (above), is interesting. The number of women with ‘Senior’ in their job titles is quite a bit higher than men, but not so with titles that contain ‘Head’ and ‘Director’. Is this where our glass ceiling is then?

I asked a question in the chat, has there been any research into the gender balance of learning technology teams, and if they are imbalanced (my suspicion and experience), does that have an impact on the nature of the materials we develop and the services we provide? The answer was ‘not that anyone was aware of’. Very interesting… as I continue to inch closer to doing my own PhD and seek ideas…

Martin Hawksey’s blog post about this topic and a link to the slides can be found here, and are worth reading.

* No mention of the ‘Other’ category, which is highly problematic. I get why that is the case – relatively small survey size (c.200 responses per year) – but that doesn’t mean you can literally ‘other’ the ‘Other’. It’s not okay, and there needs to be an acknowledgement of this and justifications explicitly provided. There must be inclusion of people with diverse gender identities, even, and especially, when research splits people along binary lines. This feels rambly, a topic to be explored in a much longer post I think.

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ALT North East User Group – 2019

In a first, I didn’t just attend the meeting this time round, I hosted it at one of the University’s nicer enterprise suites at Hope Street Xchange. Working with Graeme and Julie who are the North East’s key contacts with ALT, I took care of the practicalities – venue, IT, parking, lunch – while they organised the agenda and speakers.

In the morning we had presentations from our regional Turnitin account manager who presented on their new Authorship Investigate tool which is designed to help detect instances of contract cheating, followed by a presentation and discussion from Jisc on changes to the EU’s Accessibility Regulations which we as an institution will need to respond to over the next year.

In the afternoon representatives from each institution attending gave a short presentation or talk about what interesting projects we have going on. I talked about using Trello with the team to better organise our workload, and the rollout of Panopto across the University which is now in full swing.

I’m pleased to be able to say it all went very well, with only one minor lunch hiccup which was quickly resolved. Hopefully this will be something we can do on a regular basis going forward.

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ALT North East User Group

Attended the ALT North East user group today at Durham Castle* to network and share practice with learning technologists from universities and colleges across the region.

A representative from Jisc was there to provide us with an update on their Learning Analytics project, which continues to look ever more impressive every time I see it. This was followed by a demonstration and talk about Special iApps which have been created to help children with special educational needs. Then we had two sessions on the use and value of Microsoft Teams in education, one from a Microsoft representative and one from a colleague at Teesside who have been using it in the wild with good results. Finally there was a demonstration of the survey tool BluePulse via webinar.

* The castle was nice. Really nice.

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ALT Annual Survey Results 2017

The results of ALT’s 2017 Annual Survey have now been released. Unsurprisingly interest in VLEs, content management systems, and eAssessment remains extremely high. I like looking at the changes more. Assistive tech, web conferencing, and collaborative tools all growing areas.

Interest in social networking on the wane. Interesting. Will social networks one day be regarded as some strange phenomenon that gripped people for a couple of decades? I’m seeing more and more disengagement on, well, social media mostly. But is that because I’m writing and reading about that kind of thing lately? Oh the paradox!

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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​ 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.

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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.

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CMALT and LFTM PG Cert

tech_support_bunny

I meant to write some posts relating to my CMALT and the LftM assignment as they came around earlier in the year, but work and life have been ridiculously hectic with the record breaking pace with which we are implementing the new VLE. The headline is that I aced both.

In 2012 I struggled with CMALT and had to submit twice, as my first submission didn’t contain enough reflection or detail relating to teaching. My revised submission scored ‘Adequates’ all round if memory serves. No such problems this time with my portfolio review – ‘Strong’ on every measure bar one ‘Adequate’. Furthermore, within a fortnight of receiving my feedback the lovely folks at ALT were asking me to become an assessor, to which I agreed, and have my first one due by the end of the week.

One piece of feedback I’ve noted was a comment that the page is very text heavy and it could have been improved with some relevant images to break it up. That is something I was conscious of, and not just in relation to the CMALT page, but to much of the content on the blog. I do try and insert images wherever possible, but it can be hard to source relevant images for much of what I write about. One can’t just go around inserting random images of bunny boos of dubious and uncertain copyright after all.

My assessment for the Leading from the Middle PG Cert was submitted on the 21st of April, and being the good responsible student that I am it was submitted well before the deadline. 7 minutes before to be exact. Those of you who follow my Twitter may have enjoyed the minor meltdown I had that evening as I hurried to get in finished off. In the end I wrote almost 7,000 words for the assignment which had a word limit of 5,000, so my Friday evening was spent editing and adding my references. All worth is though, as I got my provisional mark back last week and I nailed it – 75% – which on Sunderland’s grading scheme puts it well into the First territory had it been an undergraduate assessment.

Two down, two to go. Before the end of September I need to complete my second PG Cert, in Academic Practice. No big assessment for that one, just lots of little ones and a portfolio of evidence for the associated HEA Fellowship.

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ALT Annual Survey Results 2015

ALT has published the report and data from their second annual survey which can be dowloaded here. Interesting reading as they now have comparative data from last year’s survey so you can see the trends and changes.

No signs of the monolithic VLE going anywhere just yet, and interest in the field of data and learning analytics is continuing to grow. I was a little surprised to see open badges so far down the list, but as a colleague in another department said to me a few days ago, employers don’t know what they are or how to value them, and as a consequence students just aren’t interested.

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