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.
Attended the afternoon sessions of Turnitin’s UK user summit which focused on customer experience, with talks from colleagues at the University of Edinburgh, the University of East London, Newcastle University and the University of Huddersfield. It’s always cathartic to hear your colleagues sharing their tales of woe and horror which are so familiar in your own work, like the academics who insist on treating the originality score as sacrosanct when making a plagiarism decision, but more productively there were some really good ideas and pieces of best practice shared. One colleague was using Blackboard’s adaptive release function to hide the Turnitin assignment submission link until students had completed a ‘quiz’ which was simply making them acknowledge in writing that they work they were about to submit was all their own. A couple of people presented their research findings on what students wanted from feedback, such as in the attached photo which shows a clear preference for electronic feedback. Someone made a product development suggestion, splitting the release of the grade and feedback in Turnitin so that students have to engage with their feedback before they get their grade. But I think my personal highlight from the day was the very diplomatic description of difficult customers as those who have ‘higher than average expectations’.
Though I missed out on the morning session due to another commitment, I was able to get the gist from networking with colleagues in-between sessions. Improvements to the Feedback Studio including the ability to embed links, multiple file upload, a new user portal which will show the most recent cases raised by people at your institution, and the development I found most interesting, the ability to identify ghost written assignments. This is still quite away from being ready, but it’s an increasing problem and one Turnitin has in their sights. They couldn’t reveal too much about how this will work for obvious reasons, but the gist is that they will attempt to build up a profile of the writing style of individuals so that they can flag up papers which seem to be written differently.
The Twitter conversation from the summit is available from the TurnitinUKSummit hashtag, where you will see I won the Top Tweet! Yay me, but alas there were no prizes.
HR and SLS, which uses a slightly modified approach, have recently revised the university’s appraisal scheme and documentation to try and make it more guided and to encourage reflection in the appraisee. This workshop was to discuss those changes and share best practice across the service.
Also covered in detail were your own responsibilities as a manager for ensuring that the process was a success, from logistics such as room booking and setting aside adequate time for both yourself and the people you are appraising, to how to guide the discussion by asking effective questions and how to identify suitable objectives for the coming year which map into departmental and service level objectives. The discussion we had around effective questioning was particularly useful, as it neatly ties in with the work I have been doing on the Leading from the Middle course, particularly the sessions on coaching.
At my appraisal last year it was suggested that I attend the University’s second line manager’s development course. This was delayed by a year because the course was under redevelopment by HR in conjunction with our Business School’s Corporate and Professional Education (CaPE) team. The new course, now branded as ‘Leading from the Middle’, is a fully accredited post-graduate module resulting in a Postgraduate Certificate in Leadership and Change upon successful completion. I don’t have a lot of information at the moment but I suspect that assessment will involve a portfolio of evidence, and in any case I’ll want to blog about the course as it develops, so I have created a new page specifically to collect these posts together using the ‘LFTM’ tag. The taught sessions on the course are as follows:
- Induction and Academic Skills
- Knowing Yourself, To Lead Others
- Strategic Leadership and Culture and Context (2 parts)
- Emotional Intelligence
- Coaching at Work (3 parts)
- Understanding Finance
- Collaborative Conversations
- Creativity and Entrepreneurial Learning
- Leading Change and Transition
- Leading High Performing Teams
- Leading Equality and Diversity
Keen-eyed observers will note the new CMALT page on my blog. My portfolio is now three years old and due for review as per ALT’s new guidelines which have come into effect this year. I had assumed that my portfolio would need to be reviewed first before my membership could, or would be renewed, but I’ve just found out today that the review process is actually still in pilot.
In any case, in preparation for this, and as a first step, I have converted my original portfolio from 2012 from a Word document to a webpage hosted here. In doing so I have changed no content whatsoever as it is a historical document, but I have removed the guidance notes and instructions which formed a part of the Word proforma and removed the need for the appendix of evidence by creating inline links to the evidence, all of which is also now hosted on this site.
I did consider using Google Sites or creating the portfolio in Mahara, but I don’t like the results of content produced using Google Sites and both of these options restrict my freedom in different ways. Part of the benefit of having this website is that I have complete control and freedom to do what I want and have no concerns about access in the future. Interestingly, in 2012 I hosted all of my evidence in my personal Content Collection area in Northumbria’s Blackboard and I have found that everything still works, even though presumably my IT account has long since been deleted. Nevertheless, it will all disappear at some point. A further reason for hosting my CMALT portfolio here is because I have known about the need for this review for some time and built my blog with this in mind, and I anticipate that I will be citing many of the posts as evidence. I have presented the portfolio as a flat page rather than creating sub-pages for each section as it matches the design of my other pages and because I am a fan of flat, minimalistic design and navigation. My concession to the fact that it is a large piece of work has been to create an internal navigation menu at the top of the page and included links back to this after each section.
The next step will be to complete the new review sections but I will wait for guidance from ALT on when this is going to be due rather than ploughing ahead. I have however created the required headings and placeholder text based on the guidance documents that have been published on ALT’s website as I think they are unlikely to change much now.
Or, to give it it’s proper title, “Creating an Effective Environment for Personal Tutoring and Research Supervision”. This was part of PebblePad’s 2015 webinar series ‘Experience Better’ and was delivered by Ian Palmer of the University of Sheffield who presented their experience with using PebblePad in their Doctoral Development Programme.
PebblePad was adopted around five years ago in order to inculcate reflective practice in students, encourage personal and professional development, and to reduce paperwork. Feedback has been very positive, with Ian reporting very few technical queries from either students or staff, but did note that for maximum effectiveness PebblePad was not just taught to students in a one-off session, but was fully embedded in the programme. PebblePad is now being deployed more widely throughout the university following this success.
A particular benefit which Ian reported was the submission of regular updates from students, their training needs analysis and supervisory meeting reports, to ATLAS, where staff on the team where able to monitor progress and provide early intervention if any students were identified as potentially struggling. This has helped to break down the old ‘secret garden’ model of student / supervisor relationships.
This was an excellent case study demonstrating how ePortfolios have been used to improve a programme for both students and staff, but I was also keen to attend today for a couple of other reasons. First of all, although we use Mahara at Sunderland, I was very heavily involved in supporting PebblePad at Northumbria, especially towards the end of my time there, and am keen to keep current with developments. Leading on from this, Sheffield are piloting a couple of new PebblePad features which the webinar promised to discuss a little. These are the new Home screen which replaces the current minimalist screen with a dashboard of recent activity and tasks which are due, and Flourish which offers to provide a defined pathway for students through a programme, with tasks and milestones which will help guide them, while also giving staff a better way of supervising their progress. I took a couple of screenshots of these features from the webinar, so apologies for the low quality.
Training on the new SLS* process for requesting and recording staff development which is built on the back of a new ‘system’, which is actually just some customised JIRA forms and dashboards. It’s nice to see a reflection element build into the system. After a staff development session you need to go back into the system and fill out a self-reflection form which goes to your line manager. If you don’t complete this within five days then you and your line manager get a prompt via email.
* SLS – Student and Learning Support, the service department to which WaLTS belongs.
I had one of those really interesting and productive meetings yesterday with an outstanding academic that was brimming with possibilities and has filled me with ideas.
The academic in question teaches multimedia and game design and for the past year or so has been experimenting with the Oculus Rift in his teaching. I’ve been wanting to catch up with him to discuss his work since we acquired a Rift for the team back in December. He demonstrated some of the software which he has created which included a virtual walkthrough of our St Peter’s Campus, where he is based, and a driving game set in the streets of Newcastle. He was able to share some of his more complete work with me there and then so that I can take a more leisurely look back at my office. The screenshot is taken from the St Peter’s simulation and shows part of the exterior of the Design Centre. And a Dalek.
Then he gave me a quick overview of what it takes to develop software for the Rift, recommending we stick to the Unity engine for best ease-of-use to quality ratio, and Autodesk or SketchUp for 3D modelling which he said would actually be the most difficult and time consuming part of the process, as the models need to be very high quality – ‘game ready’ – meaning high polygon count and FPS. He has very kindly offered to visit the team and give us all a more in-depth one day crash course on everything we need to get started in May or June after his teaching has finished. Quid quo pro, I offered our services, Rift and a computer to run it when he attends open days and recruitment events.
Finally we discussed practical applications. Marketing applications are easy, and there are many events where we can, and will have a stall with the Rift set up to attract people over to us and then to start a discussion about what we can do for them. Applications to enhance teaching and learning are more difficult, though Keele University have done some good work in their School of Nursing and Midwifery. Some ideas we discussed included interactive 3D models of molecules for our Pharmacy department, mechanical equipment for our Engineering department, and a virtual gallery of work created by the National Glass Centre, though this is more of a marketing tool again. Equipment is another problem as there needs to be an appropriate amount of hardware for people to use, two Rift’s across the University is hardly sufficient. Of course departments can’t justify such an investment without having the appropriate software and concrete learning objectives ready to go.
We have a similar chicken and egg problem in the team in that none of us really have the necessary programming or 3D skills to develop for the Rift. In order for members of the team to be up-skilled for this we need to have a clear business case and a project to develop, but how do we attract such a project without the skills? And of course we have to do all of this in pretty short order in time to capture the zeitgeist surrounding VR at the moment.
It’s been a while since my last post, first of the new year actually (so Happy New Year folks!) so I thought I would post something quickly on what I’ve been up to.
The reason for the lack of blogging is simply because I haven’t actually finished anything! I’ve done plenty of work, but for various reasons nothing is in a state where I can declare it to be done. Frightfully frustrating for someone with a little OCD.
One thing I did finish was a training event which I delivered for Careers, on Prezi, which I really enjoyed and I received some really nice feedback from them. I’ve also acquired a Thunderbolt to HDMI adaptor to get the Oculus Rift hooked up to one of our Macs, but haven’t had time to get it set up yet. I have nearly completed two Storyline presentations, a very comprehensive learning unit on the Bribery Act which will be the largest and richest piece of learning material I will have produced to date, and another short video for Careers. Both of these are with their respective project owners at the moment for approval and feedback. Prep work for the second semester of Technology Bytes is well under way, but again not quite finished yet due to a room booking problem, and finally I have had a very productive meeting with an academic today about developing a progress bar widget to use in course sites, similar to what Future Learn have. It will be tricker for us to implement as it will need to be dynamic to accommodate changes to course materials as time goes on, but not an insurmountable challenge.