The team and I had follow-up webinar training from Speedwell today recapping some of the basic functionality now that we’ve been using if for a few months, and looking at some of the more advanced features which are currently available, and some which are going to be available to us from next week when we upgrade to the latest version of the web app. This will relocate much of the functionality of the admin system, such as checking student performance and running reports, to the system which end users (academics) access through the browser.
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.
Joined Instructure’s accessibility webinar this afternoon to learn more about what they are doing on the accessibility of Canvas. With regards to the product itself, quality assurance developers assess the accessibility of new features throughout development, then they work with an external agency, WebAIM, to complete their VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) to comply with US legislation.
With regards to content, they provide an accessibility checker tool which I learned today wasn’t their own thing, but UDOIT, an open source tool developed by the University of Central Florida. This can check web content, but not files like PowerPoint and Word documents like Blackboard Ally can. Instructure have also recently added Microsoft’s Immersive Reader as a beta feature, which will hopefully become a permanent addition.
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.
This morning we had a visit from our account managers at Medial to give us a demonstration of the new version of Medial which we will be upgrading to imminently, and to discuss future developments. Version 6 provides new video editing options, the ability to batch import and apply metadata to videos, improvements to the live streaming part of the system, and the various options which are now available for adding closed captions to videos – either machine transcription or more accurate, but much more expensive, human services. The player has also been updated to add variable playback rate, from 0.5x to 2x speed.
We also discussed the practicalities of integrating Medial into Canvas, especially now that we also have reVIEW (Panopto) which has overlapping functionality, and some further changes planned for their next release.
This was our main training session on the system where we had a trainer from Speedwell onsite for the day to run through all aspects of the system with us, from initial configuration to creating questions and exams. We will also be deploying the Safe Exam Browser as part of this project.
Had a short, informal session with my line manager and programme leader about various aspects of the University’s processes around being a module leader and the new responsibilities I have. I found it really useful to get more details about things like completing reports for the external examiner and the required paperwork for our module boards which are imminent.
This was a bespoke session run by the academic development side of the CELT for the benefit of us on the learning technology side, in response to some issues we raised at our team away day back in April.
A problem we have is that often, when encouraging academics to change some part of their practice, to use online quizzes instead of paper based forms for example, we are met with resistance in the form of being told that changes can’t be made because something in the University’s regulations prevents it. There seems to be a lot of myths in the institution about what people are and aren’t allowed to do, so we asked for a session of this nature to give us a better overview of what the rules actually are so that we can better help academics, and what we need to do to ensure that polices are followed lest we spend hours working on something which can’t then be used.
And very useful it was. We covered the key areas of the University’s Academic Quality Handbook, particularly on what changes module and programme leaders can make unilaterally, and what needs to be approved through either the ‘Minor Modification’ process or revalidation. We also discussed the Module Catalogue and why that needs to be the single source of truth for students on what they can expect from their studies, how assessment can be reworked to reduce the number of individual assessment components in a module, and how, contrary to one common myth, you can use custom assessment marking criteria and rubrics, you just have to make sure that it maps against the University’s generic assessment criteria.
I wrote a long post about this event, and published it for a little while, but then I thought to myself “I wonder if this could make for a suitable guest post on the ALTC blog?” So I contacted them, and here it is: A Report from the HHE (North) TEL Stakeholder Event!