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Tag: Learning

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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Moodle Munch: Oct. 2021

A virtual escape room example, from DCU
An example of a virtual escape room, from DCU

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.

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New Year, New Challenges

Like a Boss
I would still rather have my Buffy mug. Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

It’s that time of again, the start of a new academic year and change is in the wind. I’ve gone the entire academic year 2020/21 without setting foot on campus other than to clear out my office. We’ve finally had some investment in us, with myself and the team getting new laptops to enable hybrid working, and our offices are in the midst of a major refurbishment to enable hot desking and social distancing, because despite the University’s push to get us all back on campus, this pandemic is not over by a longshot. We expect that to be complete in time for the start of teaching, at which point I’ll get to be back in the office 2 or 3 days a week.

This means I’ll also get to meet my new team! At the start of the pandemic and the switch to online and hybrid teaching, we recruited a number of instructional designers and content developers to help academics with the change, and I’m pleased to say that we’ve been able to make four of them permanent and they have joined my content development team as of today. That’s six folks in my team alone, and will make our Learning Technology team the largest it has ever been, a reflection on how critical our service has become.

Our job titles have been fiddled around with again, and I’m back to being a Senior Learning Technologist – yay! A much more sensible title that is so much clearer than Learning Technology Coordinator for Learning Materials Development, though I regret that I’m no longer going to be able to joke about being so important that I needed ‘learning’ in my job title twice. Our HR system was never actually updated with this, so I’m just going to quietly retcon my profiles to omit this dark period and pretend it never happened.

I must write something about Studiosity, a new student support offering for writing feedback, and a project I’ve led over the past year. It went live today, and all seems to be well. I’ll be continuing to manage that as students start to use the service over the next couple of months, as well as coordinating a revamp of our external and internal web spaces. Then in February, for the start of semester 2, I’ll be taking over as module leader for one of our PG Cert courses and, unlike last time, this isn’t just a technology module, but is on designing learning and assessment. A challenge, to be sure, but a welcome one, and I’m looking forward to getting that module leader role back and being able to do more teaching.

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Online Learning and Teaching for Neurodiverse Students

My Brain has too Many Tabs Open
If I could only Command+Q my brain sometimes. Photo by That’s Her Business on Unsplash

‘Exploring the Experience of Online Learning and Teaching for Neurodiverse Students’ was an excellent session hosted by ALT East England shining a light on some of the issues with online learning and teaching which particularly affect neurodiverse students. I’m going to do this backwards and talk about the second part of the session first, because it was the first part which was more impactful for me, and that’s what I want to focus on.

The second part was a talk by members of Anglia Ruskin University’s Disability and Dyslexia Service, who discussed the challenges of supporting hardware and software platforms they weren’t necessarily familiar with, and the benefits of online working which offered opportunities for engaging with students at times which better suited them, freed from on-campus, 9-5 hours, and for rapport building by sharing intimacies of home environments. I have personally loved pet-bombing during meetings and nosing at people’s book shelves, though I want to insert a note of caution here that many students are living and studying in far from ideal environments; having a suitable home working / studying environment is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Returning now to the first part of the session, this was a student-led discussion on some of the issues they have faced with online learning, and their thoughts on what we can do as developers and teachers to make things better for all students.

So for example, some students with anxiety or ADHD reported that they had found the structural changes difficult and, in the case of the many changes we’ve had to lockdown restrictions, frustrating. One student commented that all of their activities – studying, eating, leisure – were all now being done in the same small environment, shared with another student, and that was causing a lot of stress. Another student found online lectures harder as they felt more conspicuous asking questions, though on the flip side they also noted that lectures tended to have more availability at other times.

There was an interesting discussion on the use of cameras during online lectures, whether students should have them on or off. This is something I’ve struggled with when teaching, as there is no feedback for me to gauge students’ engagement and comprehension. One student on the panel commented that they have been in online lectures with up to 500 students, and cameras being on was very distracting for them. Another student commented that they preferred cameras on to get some social interaction with their peers, while another who was hard of hearing said that they benefitted from cameras being on for lip-reading.

On assessment, there was general appreciation for the ‘no detriment’ policy they had last academic year when the pandemic began, but this has been removed in the current academic year in favour of universal extensions granted upon request, which one student said was far worse because it extended the time available for them in which to be anxious about their assessments. There was no love for online proctoring software, with some students saying they had difficulty with suitable space for these, and even having to buy their own webcams.

I got a lot out of listening to students like this, but I found myself wondering about how to draw conclusions. On webcams for example, on or off? That, I think, is a decision that needs to be made with each student cohort individually, and in consultation with them – and with their consent! Far easier with cohorts of 30 rather than 300 of course. One good suggestion from the student group was to build in social time to online teaching sessions, either at the beginning or end of sessions where cameras can be on so that students can see each other and say ‘hi’, and then turned off during the taught component to reduce distractions, unless specifically required.

There are institutional things that could change to help students. Proctoring software is a vile product category that is just needs to get the sea. The whole lot of them. In the Sea. There was maybe an argument to be made at the start of lockdown, but people have had over a year to redesign assessments now, so there’s no excuse. And policies around mitigating circumstances and reasonable adjustments need to be made actually reasonable, and not applied across the board as though they were written on stole tablets. There’s core values stuff here. Should we be looking for reasons to fail students, or doing everything possible to help them to pass? I know how I want to spend my time.

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Teaching, Learning and Assessment in a Digital World

100 years of learning theories showing the learner as the active agent
The learner must be the active agent in the learning process

This was Bob Harrison’s inaugural lecture as a Visiting Professor at the University of Wolverhampton. Bob has been in education for over 50 years, and I have known his name in Ed Tech circles for a long time.

His talk was on the dangers of over-emphasising the power of technology as a solution to the problem of online and distance education, and the need to continually relearn the lessons that successful learning, no matter whatever physical distances may be involved, needs to be driven by the learner as the active agent in the learning process, supported by well-designed content delivered by caring and competent teachers. And if I’ve mangled Bob’s thesis in this summary, you can read it more eloquently in his own words in this article, Why there is nothing remote about online learning, published last year. And for an example of how you can’t magically improve online learning just by throwing money and technology at the issue, Wired’s article on the ‘LA iPad debacle’ is a good read.

I thoroughly enjoyed Bob’s lecture, and his dismantling of technological solutionism, neoliberalism in education, and his barely checked scorn for the Department for Education and their fixation on remote teaching.

The screenshot which I grabbed to illustrate this post shows a continuation of the theme of learners as the active agents of learning in the most influential learning theories spanning the past century.

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The CELT Top +-10 Tools, Mostly β€œFree”(ish)

Padlet Map Example
Experiments with the new map board in Padlet

I recently delivered a staff development session for our Instructional Design team, as part of which I was asked to cover what fun and exotic external tools we particularly use or recommend. I have an extremely comprehensive list in my browser bookmarks, and have a small handful of “go to’s”, but to put together a proper list I consulted with my CELT colleagues and put together our Top 10. Which had 12 things on it. Or 14 really if you include what I put on another slide to get more ideas. Whatever, counting is over rated, just ask the Republican Party. I thought it would be useful to share, so, in no particular order, here they are:

Kahoot
An audience, or student response system. It’s bright, loud, fun, and people seem to like it, though it’s not my preference as I think it’s a tad unprofessional for HE. Like most of the things on this list it works on a freemium model, with the free version limited to two question types – MCQ and True/False – and 50 players. Staff wanting to use it will need to create an account which requires an email address, but students do not have to sign-up to use it and can submit responses via a website or mobile app.

Poll Everywhere
This is my go-to student response system. Works on the same model as Kahoot, but looks a lot more professional. Less intuitive to set up, and only 40 responses per poll with the free account, but many more questions types (23, I think). Students can also respond by SMS, getting around the problem of ‘I don’t have a smartphone / data’ which can still be an issue sometimes.

ThingLink
An old favourite. Upload any image or photo to ThingLink, then make it interactive by adding hot spots that can include text, audio, video, or links to other content. Free version limits the amount of hot spot icons which are available to you, and each image has a viewing cap of 1,000. For an example of use, here is an interactive world map I created for a Sociology module showing country health profiles created by students: Country Health Profiles.

Piktochart
Infographics have become an increasingly popular way of showing a lot of data in a very simple, visually striking format, and Piktochart is an excellent and easy to use tool that lets you create these. Free accounts are limited to 5 charts, and export quality is limited, though still very good. Images can be exported as flat PNG files, or embedded with a bit of iframe code if you use interactive elements. In relation to the aforementioned Sociology project, here is an example I created in Piktochart using facts I totally made up about Wakanda (Black Panther was in cinemas when I ran this with the first cohort): Wakanda Health Profile.

Prezi
An online presentation tool, an alternative to PowerPoint or Keynote which breaks the ‘slide’ paradigm and allows you to move through a presentation in interesting ways. The free version only works online and has limited templates and editing options.

Padlet
Have you ever done any activities where you get students to stick post-its to a whiteboard, or add or move contributions to a board in some other way? Padlet is a way of doing that online. Free account is limited to 3 ‘pads’. I want to say this has been updated quite recently, as I remember it as just having variations of a whiteboard style layout, but when I’ve used it recently there are lots of new template options, including maps which I’ve been experimenting with. For EDPM10 I got students to annotate a map with a book, novel, philosopher or thinker which has influenced them. EDPM10 Exercise.

Canva
Not to be confused with Canvas! Canva is an online image editor with a very low barrier of entry as it provides around 100 design types to get started with, e.g. posters, flyers, banners, icons, and 250,000 template images and widgets.

Twine
An open source tool for creating interactive stories, think create your own adventure books.

Unsplash
I love Unsplash, I’ve been raving about it for years to anyone who’ll listen to me, and you’ll see Unsplash photos all over this blog. It’s a stock photography site, like Shutterstock, but everything on Unsplash is free to download and use for any non-commercial purpose. Very high quality and pretty comprehensive, and you don’t even need an account to use this one. All you have to do, as a matter of honour, is give credit and a link back to the original photographer. A pro-tip for Mac users – they have an app which gives you fresh new wallpaper on your desktop every day.

Creative Commons Image Search
And when Unsplash can’t do the job, or it’s images you need rather than photos, I recommend people use the Creative Commons image search instead of Google to ensure that you only get results that can be reused with a Creative Commons license. Also Google is evil.

Open Culture
I’m not sure if Open Culture bills itself as an open education repository (OER), but that is essentially what it is, or at least it’s a huge part of it. A massive collection of resources in the public domain, either because copyright has expired or been waived. Includes entire courses, books, art, photos, music, movies, etc.

Trello
Possibly the black sheep of this list, but included for the value I get from it. Trello is a super-powered to-do list using Kanban methodology that I use for organising my workload and, with mixed success, corralling my team! A big empty board that you populate with lists and cards, and each card can have a range of content within it, a detailed description, a task sub-list, due date, etc., and these can be moved around between lists and boards, and assigned to other team members. I’ve experimented with Trello a lot over the past couple of years, changing how I use it to try and get the best format that works for me. Currently I have a Work Board for the year, with lists categorising my typical work and any specific projects which need their own special management. I hesitated a little to include this one. It annoyed me earlier in the year when they changed how accounts work, now you need to use at Atlassian ID which doesn’t work as well, especially on the iOS app, and it seems to have been generally buggy of late. The quality and long-term trend is worrying me, and I am intermittently looking at alternatives.

Class Tools
This first of two items on my ‘also’ slide, Class Tools is a collection of little web apps, widgets and templates. There’s a random name pickers, an on-screen timer, lots of templates for creating fake but real(ish) looking social media posts, and lots of little games and quiz tools like a crossword generator. There are a couple of items on here that are premium, but most are free to use (with ads).

Top Tools for Learning
And finally, if this list isn’t long enough, the Top Tools 4 Learning site lists the top 200 tools for learning, as voted for by learning technologists, educators and other interested parties. Categorised for easy searching, ranked, and showing how tools have changed position which is great for spotting trends.

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LTA Workshop: Gamification

Photo of a slide with game design tipsPhoto: 10 things game designers know (and educators should!)

Attended the much delayed LTA workshop on Gamification today, from Kathy Wright of Advance HE. It was a very useful day which combined the pedagogy and theory behind gamification and game-based learning with practical activities that we could adapt to our own teaching. The thought that has stayed with me was the point that education is already a game, just usually a bad one, as students have limited agency, it’s poorly balanced, and often not fun. I discovered a nice new tool, Twine, for non-linear storytelling, and there are a couple of piece of research I’m going to be following up, Reid’s ‘Psychology of the Near Miss’ being one.

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Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference 2019

advance_he_conference

Attended, and more importantly, presented at the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference held this year at Northumbria University. Day 3 of the conference was themed around STEM and the keynote was given by Debbie McVitty, editor of Wonkhe, who talked about the impact the TEF has had on the sector and how to really measure teaching excellence.

A highlight of the day for me was the post-lunch Ignite Sessions which saw 8 presenters speaking for 5 minutes about their work or project. “Pride and Prejudice and technology (that enhances learning)” from Katie Stripe of Imperial College London will stay with me for her unique approach, as will the brave soul who used audience response in an Ignite presentation by asking people to stand or remain sitting in response to questions. Also from Imperial, Drs Tiffany Chiu and Freddie Page presented on their work around what an ideal student looks like which attempts to address the disconnect between how students see themselves and what they want out of their HE experience, and what staff want from, and want to get out of students. And Dr Helen Kaye from The Open University discussed how they are supporting final year psychology students to complete an empirical research project which possess unique challenges for distance learning students.

I also came away with ideas and additions to my reading list. For my own teaching on our PG Cert I’ve been inspired by the University of Strathclyde’s Dr Patrick Thomson to include a session around peer instruction, expanding on what we’ve done around peer assessment. I also want to expand what we have traditionally taught around rubrics and online marking, to include a discussion about the value and role of marking and the different ways it can be done. To my reading list I’ve added Alone Together by Sherry Turkle and Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi.

By far the most important thing to happen today however, was that I presented for the first time with my colleague Dr Katrin Jaedicke on the work we have done to convert her statistics for biomedical sciences students course into a full fledged massive online open course (MOOC). It was mostly Katrin’s talk, as it is of course the content that is key, but I was there to contribute to any discussion around the technological and pedagogical considerations in the conversion of the course from a flat web page into a MOOC. I also ran a live quiz at the end of the session, giving people a taste of the MOOC. Katrin had initially wanted to give people a handout of one of the self assessment quizzes, but I suggested doing it live using Poll Everywhere and awarding participants with a digital badge, just like the MOOC students receive, and I’m pleased to be able to say that it all went very well.

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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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New Job

As a result of a mini restructure in the CELT my job, the Senior Learning Technologist, will cease to exist in a few weeks. That was a little disconcerting when I found out, but I am thankful to have been slotted into a new role in the new structure at the same grade, so on the 1st of August I will become the new Learning Technology Coordinator for Learning Materials Development. Longest. Job title. Ever.

What it means in practice is that my role has effectively been split into two, and there is going to be another role at the same level with responsibility for managing the VLE. The team is also being split, and I’ll have two people working on learning materials with the third learning technologist working with the VLE coordinator. In reality there will continue to be a lot of cross working within the team, especially until the VLE coordinator is appointed, but I’m positive about the possibilities the new structure offers. I can make something of this new position both for myself, to push my career in the right direction, and for the university to support our drive into new areas of independent distance learning by working with academic teams to produce appropriate high quality, pedagogically sound content.

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