This was a good session, a workshop facilitated by ALT’s Anti-Racism and Learning Technology special interest group in which the theory of intersectionality was first introduced, utilising Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED talk, and then we had an open discussion about the issues particular to learning technology and education, and what we can do about it. Our thoughts were collected and curated in a Google Jamboard and I am sharing captured versions of those here – click to embiggen (officially a real word now, according to Merriam-Webster).
Supporting these endeavours, the latest version of ALT’s Framework for Ethical Learning Technology is available here.
My first in-person conference in two years at the University of Roehampton’s gorgeous campus was a chance to learn about Studiosity’s plans for the future, to network with colleagues at other UK HEIs using Studiosity and compare notes, and pretty randomly, I was able to get a tour of Roehampton’s new library building during lunchtime (it’s lovely).
On those future plans, we’re going to see an enhanced version of the student feedback view in the next couple of months which is going to allow their subject specialists to insert short videos and infographics explaining particular grammatical concepts, issues with spelling, and so on. They are also introducing a new ‘Student Connect’ tool which will help to facilitate peer-to-peer student support. This is currently in beta testing, and two UK universities are part of this evaluation.
The keynote address was by Sir Eric Thomas, who sits on Studiosity’s Academic Advisory Board, and he made a great point that, looking at historical precedents from past plagues, people at the time always think, “this is going to change everything, we can’t go back to how things used to be”, but invariably things do go back to exactly how they were once the threat is over. He speculated that this was because plagues and pandemics leave physical infrastructure unchanged, in contrast to wars, where the physical act of rebuilding allows for societal changes to be literally built in. However, what may be different as we ‘re-build’ after Covid, is that new communication technologies such as Teams and Zoom have come into their own and already effected change in how we live and work. The permanence of these changes is something that lingers in my mind as I contemplate my future.
Good opportunities for informal chats with colleagues at more advanced stages of Studiosity use, and no easy answers to be had in terms of managing use and expectations, and showing causal links between use of the service and student retention and attainment, something I’m in the midst of grappling with now as we approach the end of our pilot.
Good chart showing the overlap of neurodiversities
The final Moodle Munch of this batch (I missed February’s!), began with James Brunton, Chloe Beatty, and Sophie Pallaro at DCU talking about their experience of conducting an accessibility review of a fully online open educational resource and the lessons learned. Good practice was achieved by using a standard template with a consistent layout and colour scheme and sharing that and other resources with staff via a central Moodle module dedicated to accessibility and inclusivity.
Some interesting points came out of this in the discussion. On the use of forums, there was a debate about the pros and cons of these for neurodiverse students, with some students reporting that the influx of messages are overwhelming, while others may prefer having more space to process a discussion and form their own responses. A reality check for the technological solutionists among us was a comment from a colleague that “some research on VLE content […] found that technical issues [were] less of a concern with the students they spoke to. […] It was the non-technical that needed addressing – clear writing style, plain English, clear sign-posting, clear headings (no not technical h1, h2)”.
The second presentation was from Andrew Field of Cambridge Assessment International Education, who talked about their experience of using H5P to develop rich, interactive content to enhance Moodle sites. They noted that while the available templates are good, they are rarely an exact fit and teaching needs to come before technology, and also to be aware of the potential danger of over-enthusiastic staff getting carried away with complex items which students can get lost in, and which may not be better than the VLE’s built-in tools – quizzes being cited as an example.
As always, recording and presentations are available on the Moodle Munch website.
Attended this ALSIG webinar on ‘Transforming a website of resources to a learning suite (lessons learned!)’, a case study from Ian Miller on converting a website which had become home to a collection of static learning resources into an online learning platform using Canvas and a number of open source and freemium online learning tools, many of which are shown in the screenshot above.
iSpring is a package I’ve never used but know well as a colleague was an advocate for it. Swivl Cloud was new to me, a video hosting service similar to Panopto, as was Jitsi Meet, a Teams / Zoom alternative. Nearpod, Google Slides and Proctorio are all known quantities.
This project was for a non-profit organisation called IACLE, the International Association of Contact Lens Educators, and one of the hard lessons learned was on how Canvas counts active students which forms the basis of their pricing. Other challenges included how to convert large, static PowerPoints into interactive learning objects (a pain I suspect we all know), and sourcing high quality, free to use tools to complement Canvas, though Ian reflected on the joy and satisfaction of being given a very free hand in this project.
The webinar recording is available now on YouTube.
Learning activities aligned to ABC learning design framework
First talk of today’s Moodle Munch was on the ABC framework for Learning Design and how it has helped academics at DCU improve their Moodle modules, transforming them from content repositories (the age old problem) to rich, interactive sites with multiple different activities for students to engage with. The screenshot I’ve captured above shows some of the different activities in Moodle aligned with categories in ABC.
There was a nice quip from someone saying “other learning deign frameworks are available!” which is very true. In CELT we used to use the ABC model until switching to UDL a few years ago. They are all good. Much overlap. All lead to improved experiences for students which is what it’s all about.
The second presentation was from Roger Emery at Solent University who talked about the comprehensive electronic marking and assessment system they have developed in-house. This started life as a project to have grades entered in the VLE automatically sent through to the student information system, Quercus in this case, and has expanded to a deep integration with all assignments created in Moodle automatically from data held in the SIS. This has led to a massive reduction in administrative workload, but does come at the expense of what some would argue is a loss of autonomy for academics.
Feeding marks from the VLE to the SIS is indisputably a goal of many universities, and a stated aim of every team I have ever worked with throughout my entire career in higher education. And if it ever happens, I will eat my hat. The limitation at both Sunderland and Northumbria has been the SIS in use, which I won’t name and shame, but as long as it remains, I’m confident in the safety of both my hat and digestive system.
An overview of the various data sources going into DCUs learner analytics system
They’re experimenting with the format a little, as this week saw three 5 minute talks from different departments on the subject of peer assessment. One theme that came out of all the sessions was the need to use anonymised marking for student confidence in the fairness of the process. I was particularly interested in Robert Gillanders experience of using negative marking as a motivator – for every 3% that students deviated from the mean in their peer marking, their own grade was reduced by 1%. I’m very curious about how this worked in practice and how ethical considerations were handled, and Gillanders has published a paper on this which I’m going to have to read.
The second session was on learner analytics from Cormac Quigley who talked about how they have taken data from multiple sources, only one of which was Moodle, and combined in Microsoft Power BI to produce a comprehensive learning analytics system, with the data and reports made available to staff via Teams. However, they also talked about the basic reporting functionality of Moodle, how you can combine grade book functionality with progress bars to create effective results for staff and students.
The full Moodle Munch archive is available online here.
A second online only event for CanvasCon as the pandemic rumbles on, with two key differences from last year’s event: first of all, this event combined both all of Instructure’s various wares, not just, Canvas, and all regions – the Americas, EMEA, etc. And secondly, it was, to be blunt, a bit rubbish. I’ll get more positive and have nice things to say towards the end of this post, but I’ll proceed in order.
You have to go into events of this nature expecting a deal of corporatisation and marketing nonsense, but last year Instructure managed to get product and company updates to us via the means of a news broadcast style segment which worked well and was entertaining. In contract, this year felt like whatever private equity firm(s) currently own Instructure had sucked all life and soul out of them. The morning keynote was a roundtable discussion between what was effectively eight different marketing people heavily selling technological solutionism. A particular low point was reached when trying to sell the benefits of Canvas for Elementary. Do elementary school children (primary school), really need a VLE? Really?
This was followed by a ‘partner and product hall’ for corporate sponsors of the event to sell their wares, and were divided into platinum, gold and silver tiers depending on how much money they had paid Instructure to be there (I imagine). I engaged with these out of desire to try and get the digital badges and swag that were on offer (damn you psychology!), but there was very little value in the experience. They used a platform called Bizzabo to host these, and like Remo last year, it was awful, though for different reasons. They don’t support Safari, my default browser, the Microsoft session had an animated banner in the background which was completely distracting, and a number of sessions I went into just had no-one there, or, in one case, had people complaining about how the service wasn’t working for them as hosts. I did manage to have a good discussion with folks from PebblePad as I was keen to see what it looks like now and what it can do, as I’m involved in a small project looking for an ePortfolio solution for a midwifery programme that goes beyond what we can accomplish with Mahara.
In our third contrast with last year’s CanvasCon, the afternoon keynote was from will.i.am, and it was a rambling, incoherent mess, though he came dangerously close to making some salient points at times. While LeVar Burton’s keynote last year could be criticised for being a little too generic, it was well-argued and coherent, and more importantly, it was genuinely inspiring and motivational.
The conference was saved by the afternoon partner-led sessions – educators talking about education, and how they’ve used various Instructure tools to help and support them – this is what it should have been all about. I attended five such sessions in the afternoon, three of which were a bust for different reasons, but in a concerted effort to end on a positive note and take something constructive out of the day, I’ll focus on the two that were genuinely good.
“Quick Quality Guide: 10 Take-Home Tips to Make Your Course Sexy” from Florida International University, was a presentation on their top-tips for engaging and accessible course design using a metaphor of ‘sexy / fashionable’. Lots of Universal Design for Learning on show here, including using multiple measures of assessment, and a wide variety of different course materials. They also talked about using a landing page with key information, having a learner support page, and using course structure tools, like the Syllabus tool in Canvas, to aid design and navigation.
“Why Microlearning is Real Learning” by Dr Peter Thomas of HaileyburyX was another excellent session discussing the benefits of micro learning – content chunked into 2-5 minute sessions, and 15 minutes at most, as a way to reduce extraneous cognitive load, replicate real-world environments where people often have to learn tasks very quickly, and exploit attention grabbing mechanisms like Twitter and TikTok do so successfully, but for good intent!
All of the session recordings, including the other 85 peer / partner breakout sessions I couldn’t attend, are available to watch online here. Colleagues inform me that they attended some good sessions too, on the coming improved Teams integrations with Canvas for example, so maybe I was just a little unlucky in what I chose to attend. We’re all in agreement that you can probably skip the keynotes though!
Moodle Munches return for the new semester, with two sessions around gamification today from staff at Dublin City University.
Lisa Donaldson began with a presentation about her experience of developing a virtual escape room for staff CPD, and how it was built using the tools in Moodle and H5P. The narrative around the escape room was the hardest part to develop, and they came up with two that were used. The first was about being an academic the night before teaching begins, and you haven’t got anything prepared! (A bit on the nose this one…) And the second scenario was, you are trapped in a dungeon and can’t escape until you have developed your own escape room scenario for teaching. Clues were placed on the screen via interactive objects, as shown in the screenshot above, which linked to documents with puzzles, and leader boards were used as a way of introducing a competitive element, with top scorers going into a prize draw.
The second presentation from Mark Glynn was about gamification more generally, and how various standard features in Moodle can be used, such as leader boards, conditional access, and activity completion reports. On leader boards, there was a reflection on the fact that not all staff find these motivating, particularly older groups. A possible mitigating factor suggested by someone in the comments was to restrict this to only the top 3 or 5 people.
A recording of the presentation can be found here, and the full Moodle Munch archive I’ve just discovered is online here.
Example of how disability can be permanent, temporary, or situational
An excellent session on empathy and inclusion in accessibility by Craig Abbott, Head of Accessibility at DWP Digital. Excellent because of the various ways in which Craig conceptualised disability, and I am shamelessly going to lift and adapt many of these points into our own teaching around accessibility in CELT.
On disability itself, Craig made an important distinction between disability and impairment. Someone who uses a wheelchair for example, is not ipso facto disabled, their mobility is merely impaired; they are disabled by societal failures. They may, for example, live in an accessible home and have a car that has been adapted, but once they get to the local shops they are disabled by the stairs going up to the newsagents with no ramp available.
In an example from tech, consider red / green colour blindness – the most common form of colour blindness, yet we in tech do like to have our red / amber / green traffic light status symbols. (The solution is to not convey information by colour alone.)
Another great thing I’m taking from this session is that disability and impairment are situational. I am not currently disabled, but there’s a good change I will be as I get older. Prevalence of disability rises with age, from 8% of the population in childhood to 46% of adults at state pension age. A broken arm, an ear infection or laryngitis are all things that could happen that would render me impaired or disabled for a period of time. If for no other reason, you should embed accessibility into your work because it could happen to you too!
In practical terms, Craig pointed us to both the DWP’s Accessibility Manual and Worcestershire County Council’s SCULPT Framework – Structure (use headings and styles), Colour and contrast, Use of images, Links, Plain English, and Tables.
The subject of romanticism gives me a dubious excuse to use share one of my favourite paintings, Caspar David Friedrich’s The Abbey in the Oakwood
I’m taking liberties with the title of this post, because the session as advertised was ‘The Role of the Arts and Humanities in Effective Online and Blended Learning Design’ which is admittedly more descriptive, but also rather unwieldy. This ALT CPD session was a presentation and talk by Dr Neil Hughes, University of Nottingham, and the title ‘Romantic Online Course Design’, invokes the romantic movement of the 19th century.
The talk was an argument in defence of the arts and humanities in the face of the ongoing cuts and attacks by our current government, and how pedagogies from humanities teaching can improve online and blended learning provision. There was much here on the value of multiple means of representation, one of the pillars of universal design for learning, and I particularly enjoyed the advice on how students can be encouraged to use online learning tools available in the VLE such as discussion boards by providing scaffolding, using inclusive and intimate language such as the ‘we’ and ‘us’ pronouns, and emphasising the unique attributes of these spaces as private and non-commodified spaces in an online world where everything seems to be monetised now.