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Tag: CPD

UoS Learning and Teaching Conference 2022

Photo of Andy Aldrin with a map showing space fairing nations - it's a lot!
Slide showing every nation with a space programme of some kind – it’s a lot!

“Why I got out of bed for class today?” Because if I hadn’t, my boss and my boss’s boss would have taken turns to kill me if I had missed our first annual learning and teaching conference.

Back in those heady days of 2019, when we were all young, innocent and care-free, a couple of good friends of mine bought me a ticket to see Nightwish at the Wembley Arena in December 2020 as a Christmas present. Well, there was some sort of global event or emergency or something which means it didn’t happen. It was rescheduled for the following year, and that didn’t happen either. We never did find out why it was cancelled with less than a week’s notice the second time, but our suspicion is that someone in the band got Covid. So it was rescheduled again, for November 2022, and this time it went ahead, and it was wonderful!

Such was this case with our conference too – planned since 2019, and finally taking place two years later. It was every bit as good as Nightwish I swear. We had some 220 people sign-up from all across the University, and my team were out in force, running sessions on CleverTouch boards and working as marshals, making sure everything went without a hitch, and I did my Studiosity impact presentation in one of the breakout sessions.

The conference began with a student panel discussion, talking about their experience of online study over the pandemic, and later as hybrid learners. The OfS could learn a thing of two from them – students want both. The benefits and social connections of in-person teaching, and the convenience of being able to catch-up with recorded and online sessions in their own time. One astute comment was that “engagement is not the same thing as attendance”, and disengaged students can be every bit as much of a problem in-person as online. Their thoughts on solutions were to mix up teaching methods, and to have interactive and group activities that make students want to be there.

Sessions I attended were from Dr Nicola Roberts on ‘Failing to Progress on a Programme of Study: A Statistical Analysis of Factors Related to Criminology Students’, Dr Helen Williams on ‘The awkwardness of transitioning to Higher Education and the implications for student retention’, and Dr Elizabeth Hidson on ‘SunRAE – the Sunderland Reflective Action in Education Conference, Podcast and e-journal contribution to enhancing international initial teacher training student engagement’.

The day wrapped with a keynote by – somewhat unbelievably – Dr Andrew Aldrin, son of Buzz. I was one, single degree of separation from a man who walked on the moon. Andy, as he insisted on being introduced, is the President of the Aldrin Family Foundation which has a mission to educate people, mainly K12 school aged kids in the US, about space, the moon, Mars, and to inspire people into pursuing space-related careers. As the man said, “Kids love space, and dinosaurs, but they get over dinosaurs.” (It was a good job we didn’t have any palaeontologists in the room.)

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ALT NE User Group: November 2022

Photo of the Owl microphone and camera in action
Stock photo of the Owl mic

And lo! November 2022 did bring forth the first, proper, ALT North East User Group since The Before Times. Though we did have a catch-up meeting in January to check-in and talk about how the pandemic has affected us all.

I was unable to make any of the management meetings to help organise and set the agenda, and so was duly punished by being putting up first to give me now almost routine talk about how our pilot year with Studiosity has gone.

Next up was Newcastle University and how they have rolled out digital assessment. Interestingly, they made a decision not to implement any kind of online proctoring software over the pandemic, a decision I very much support. They have been using, and are now scaling up, the use of Inspera for in-person exams. This was chosen over others for its ability to save local copies of exams – which it does every 6 seconds – as a contingency against network outage, and which in extreme cases can be retrieved from the computer as an encrypted file and uploaded on the students’ behalf. They are using a bring-your-own-device model, with power supply available for around 10% of the exam room capacity, and a laptop loan scheme available for 5%, which have been sufficient to cover them. For improved convenience, they are now looking at providing portable power banks rather than running extension cables around the room.

Next, my old muckers from Northumbria talked about their digital literacy scheme which sees TEL colleagues mentoring staff on digital technologies, and an expanded IT Place which now features TEL as well as IT staff, supported by a range of asynchronous content with certificates for staff who complete set courses. They are looking at digital badges to replace / complement this moving forwards.

After lunch, Durham talked about their experience of dual-mode teaching, including the use of Owl telepresence devices, as featured in the pic above which I gratuitously pinched from their website (please don’t sue, I have no money). It was an interesting experience, mixed. A conclusion from the learning technologies team was that they were great for meetings and small rooms, but the mics and cameras weren’t up to the job in larger teaching spaces. That didn’t stop their IT department from purchasing them en masse and kitting out every room though! Ah, classic IT.

Finally, we ended with a roundtable discussion on the use of student data. Again, Newcastle I feel are ahead of the curve here in banning the use of predictive analytics outright. Durham talked about their experience of the Blackboard feature which allows automated messages to be sent to students based on performance – they turned it off. They felt it was problematic for student motivation as the messages didn’t provide sufficient (any?) contextual information for students.

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UUK Access, Participation and Student Success Conference 2022

I was honoured to be invited to attend the UUK’s Access, Participation and Student Success Conference 2022 by colleagues at Studiosity, to present a case study on why and how we have implemented Studiosity at Sunderland over the past year. This was a variation of my presentation for InstructureCon, with the technical slides de-emphasised and new sections added about how the Studiosity project ties in with our wider personal academic tutoring project and the University’s Student Success Plan 2025. My presentation was well-attended and I got some good questions and feedback, and as an attendee at the conference I got a lot out of the other sessions I was able to attend.

Kaushika Patel, Deputy PVC Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at De Montfort University, presented on closing ethnicity awarding gaps, something which is an issue for us at our London Campus in particular which has a much more diverse student intake. Kaushika’s talk was about what progress has been made since the 2019 UUK and NUS ‘Closing the Gap‘ (PDF, 2Mb) report. My first photo above shows that there has been some progress, with the overall gap decreasing from 13.2% to 8.8%, but there is also a particular issue with 1st class awards, where the attainment gap between BAME and white students is 9.6%. Kaushika made some practical suggestions about what we can do going forwards, including signing up for the Race Equality Charter. I’ve picked that one out as I was disappointed to find that Sunderland was not a member, though I’ve spoken with our EDI lead and been assured it is on the agenda of our BAME staff group.

I also got a lot out of Nathalie Podder’s passionate talk about how the cost of living crisis is affecting students. Nathalie is the Deputy President (Welfare) at Imperial College Union and her presentation was based on consultations with students at Imperial College London. My second two photos show their ‘Findings’ and ‘Government Recommendations’ slides. Among the findings are that 95% of students are concerned about the cost of living crisis, 58% are worried about their ability to pay rent, and 20% about being able to pay utility bills. Their recommendations for the government included starting a new hardship scheme for students, reinstating maintenance grants, raising NHS bursaries and regulating landlords who own student properties.

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Investing in Student Success: Studiosity Meta Analysis

Slide showing various success measures for Studiosity
Various success measures for Studiosity

Today I attended this presentation on research conducted by the Nous Group with Studiosity, on a meta analysis of the effectiveness of Studiosity and a methodology of converting that data into a return on investment figure in cold, hard cash. I’m not sure how confidential this is, so I won’t go into any great detail here, but I expect the report will be on Studiosity’s website in time. I believe this study looked at data from the whole of the one million students who have now used Studiosity.

The screenshot above shows some headline performance measures, including that students who used Studiosity had a 6-16% higher rate of programme retention, got grades that were 15% higher, and 88% reported increased confidence in completing their assignments. I am hoping I will soon be able to put a slide of this nature together showing the performance impact at Sunderland.

The second part of the presentation was on converting this data to a return on investment measure. Assuming that you can show improvements in retention, progression and attainment after adopting Studiosity, there is a big open question on how much weight you can attribute this improvement to Studiosity, and how much is attributable to other factors. Nous presented their ROI calculations based on a number of assumed percentages to address this.

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InstructureCon 2022

It’s that time of year again, Panda spotting day in the midst of new student chaos at the busiest time of year: InstructureCon! I didn’t spot the panda until late on, during one of the final corporate keynotes which all seemed to have an Indiana Jones / wilderness theme, because education is a journey I believe.

After the corporate shenanigans, Simone Giertz delivered the opening guest keynote which I enjoyed and had been looking forward to as an existing fan of her YouTube. She talked about the value of problem solving and searching for unique or different solutions to problems, such as her unique rollable jigsaw table. Simone also talked about how important it is, in STEM specifically but it applies in all areas, of visibility of people that children can project themselves onto as part of their development.

This was followed by Sidharth Oberoi, Instructure’s VP of International Strategy, giving the more hands-on business keynote on Instructure’s vision of the future of education. Very heavy on alternative teaching methods and hybrid learning, so he’s definitely going to be on the Office for Students’s naughty list. He also talked a lot about the need and value of micro-credentials, something that would be a bit of a theme of the conference, and I’ll share my thoughts on that at the end.

After the morning keynotes we had time to build our own experience by sampling a range of pre-recorded on-demand sessions from the community, of which clearly the greatest and best of all time was yours truly on Sunderland’s experience of integrating Studiosity into Canvas.

The sessions which I actually attended were I’ll Have to Say ‘I Love You’ in a Survey” by Ben McGrae and Will Moindrot at the University of Liverpool which covered their experience of developing and analysing a survey after transitioning to Canvas.

Blackpool and The Fylde College’s Canvas EASL (Educational Analytics for Student Lifecycle) by Stephen Taylor and Kerry Steeden stood out to me as I used to live there. They shared their experience in moving from using a module template to the Blueprint tool.

Product Spotlight: Canvas Credentials by John Boyle of Arizona State was a case-study of use of Canvas Credentials, the newly re-branded Badgr tool, following Instructure’s purchase of Concentric Sky, the main developer of Badgr.

Impact by Instructure Updates was another update on an Instructure purchase, this time Eesysoft. This is another one I feel close to as I spent a lot of time at Northumbria cosying up to Eesysoft as they were very interested in its possibilities, just not enough to actually spent money on it. Impact looks very much like I remember, giving administrators the ability to provide context-aware help throughout the VLE. The big difference now of course is that it’s a Canvas exclusive product, whereas Eesysoft had integrations available for all the major VLEs.

The final on-demand session I attended was Canvas LMS Updates for Higher Education by Jewel Pearson and Whitney Pesek which was very useful for seeing the features and enhancements which are around the corner. I’m particularly looking forward to the Comment Library in SpeedGrader, which offers similar functionality to Turnitin’s QuickMarks and which our academics have been after since day one with Canvas. I’m not entirely sure that integrating emojis in submission comments is necessary, but if you’re going to do it, at least having a feature to set your preferred skin tone universally is a nice touch. The fancy touches to assignment submission, such as a progress tracker, also look nice.

The closing keynote by Matin Bean was another I was looking forward to, as Martin was the vice-chancellor of the OU during my time with them. His talk focused on predictions for the future of education – the growth of micro-credentials, the increasing involvement of business and competition from non-traditional learning providers, and the use of different types of teaching methods, e.g. more hybrid learning (someone else with no fans at the OfS then.) Martin also talked about what, in his experience, employers are looking for in graduates – namely, ‘grit’, or determination.

Finally, Adam Grant in the closing keynote talked about how Instructure can help educators to avoid burning out, and the growth of people learning from non-traditional means such as YouTube and podcasts. This is very true; only the day before I taught myself how to re-silicone seal my bathroom on YouTube (outcome: it looks fantastic!).

As I mentioned above, a theme of the conference was micro-credentials, something which came up over and over again in the corporate talk, and was echoed in Martin Bean’s keynote. I first wrote about badges in 2014, and while I think the concept is grand, in the 8 years since I haven’t seen any significant real-world demand, it still feels like a solution in search of a problem. This is perhaps evident in the re-branding from ‘open badges’ to ‘micro-credentials’. I also remain concerned about long term viability, having lost half my badges in the migration from Mozilla’s Backpack to Badgr. And what is going to happen to Badgr now that Instructure have purchased the lead developer of the standard? They are already offering certain functionality – pathways – as something additional to the base standard, only available in Canvas. Sidharth talked about decentralisation, student control, and learner’s owning their educational journey and results, but who controls the “wallets?” Canvas Credentials, the purchase of Eesysoft, and the corporate talk from today don’t point towards student control and decentralisation to me, but rather to Instucture’s increasing control and consolidation of the educational vertical stack.

At least one thing which is open is the conference itself, with all sessions now available on demand.

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An Intersectional Approach to Learning Technology

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.

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Studiosity Partner Forum 2022

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.

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Moodle Munch: Mar. 2022

Screenshot of a chart showing types of neurodiversity
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.

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Transforming a Website of Resources

Selection of software used in the project
A selection of the software used for the project

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.

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Moodle Munch: Dec. 2021

ABC and Moodle Activities
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.

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