Digital Challenges, New Tech & the Space In-between: Thoughts on JISC Connect More

This week, a few of the TEL team attended the final event of the JISC Connect More series at Nottingham University. The day provided opportunities to connect with peers, share practice and explore new ways to teach and learn using digital technology.

Barriers, Challenges and Aspirations

The first presentation, led by Rachel Challen from Loughborough College, was on the barriers, challenges and aspirations that we face in the field of Learning Technology. Tying together institutional strategies and processes to work effectively within the changing digital landscape requires a lot of people and systems to work together, and it’s a tough job.

This theme continued throughout the day and it was encouraging (I think) to see that we’re all in the same boat – How can we engage with everyone in our institutions to think differently (and cohesively) about Technology Enhanced Learning and digital capabilities? It’s clearly a difficult challenge, and one of the things that’s great about events like this is that we can share the different ways, however successful, that we are trying to solve it. I got the sense that we’re all trying to move away from the perception of Learning Technologists as ‘point and click’ presenters, and embed ourselves much more within the academic community as specialists. Personally I think it’s a great thing, offering better value to the staff and students we work with in a collegial environment.

New Tech!

We also got the chance to try out some new technologies like the HTC Vive and Nao, a programmable robot. The HTC Vive was particularly interesting given the work I’ve already done with virtual reality in the last year. This was the first chance I’d had to use handheld trackers and they enabled me to create something in a 3D space – I was virtually painting, using TiltBrush by Google.

Instead of just having a flat canvas to draw on, I could now interact in all directions – forwards, backwards, up, down and everything in-between. If I drew a three dimensional shape, I could get inside it. I was able to experience the digital world as an actual space in which I could interact and move around, not confined or separated by a twRob VRo dimensional screen. There was a sense I was taking ownership of my own personal virtual space.

And this week, as I’ve watched Pokémon inhabit a shared digital space in the world, I’ve wondered if the convergence of technologies like VR and AR will allow us all to create our own personal digital spaces – They probably will and that’ll provide us with lots of exciting opportunities for creating new digital learning environments.

The Gap In-between

It was interesting to experience new technologies that are heading towards the classroom and at the same time hear how colleagues are meeting the current challenges of embedding digital capabilities within education. There’s clearly a gap in the middle that a lot of us sit in, connecting the dots between ever newer technologies and their educational application. It’ll be fascinating to see what an event like JISC Connect More looks like in 10 years. Over to you Nao…

Lego for Learning

I recently attended a Lego for Learning workshop hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University and led by Chrissi Nerantzi and Dr. Steven Powell. The idea of the workshop was to look at how Lego Serious Play methods can be used in teaching and learning. A range of colleagues from different educational sectors attended, which gave the day a nice, well rounded perspective.

Rob's Lego AnimalThe day began with a reflective warm up exercise using Lego – first create an animal, then add something to it which represents yourself, which wasn’t that easy when you’ve only got a minute to do it! The group then shared thoughts on their own creations and the representative elements we had each added. The idea of this was to get us in the mode of thinking about creating metaphorical models using Lego, and also reflecting on what they represented.

One of the interesting things about this process, even in the early part of the day, was that everybody in the group contributed, and this would continue throughout as we took part in the various exercises – it all felt very democratic.

Lego Learning EnvrionmentIn the next exercise we were asked to build a model of our ideal learning environment and then draw out shared themes which we could identify in each others models. We then constructed a shared model which collated our thoughts on the various themes – ours turned out to be a boat.

Lego Boat


Whilst this all might seem to be a bit fluffy on the surface, it actually led us into a deep discussion around learning environments and find commonalities that we felt were important in their design. It wasn’t really the Lego model which was important, it was how we used it to express our thoughts on learning design, and we articulated our thoughts differently than we would have if we had written them down. It was a very reflective process,  and by making something, however abstract, we’d engaged with the thought process in a different way and one which enabled us, very quickly, to engage in a creative discussion and generate a lot of ideas.

There’s plenty of theory around how and why Lego Serious Play methods work and the ArtLab website has lots of information on research projects which have been conducted. This video from Professor David Gauntlett is also well worth watching in which he explains the theory behind some of the methods he used to gather research using Lego:

Overall, the workshop was very enjoyable and I came away with a lot of ideas for different methods for using tools like Lego to engage students with theories, ideas, research or reflection. I also got some free Lego 🙂

My experience of a MOOC

Infographic on MOOC

Image by Giulia Forsythe (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Recently I decided to complete a MOOC, or massive open online course, through the website. The course I chose to take was ‘Introduction to  Digital Sound Design’ from Emory University and there were two reasons why I gave this a go, firstly, I wanted to increase my knowledge of audio production and secondly, I was interested in how the course content would be conveyed through the use of video and web technology.

The lesson setup was simple, all conveyed through video, a single shot of the lecturer talking to camera which occasionally switched to an interactive whiteboard for displaying the odd graph or audio waveform. Whilst this is rather basic (and slightly disappointing to someone who makes a living from creating video for education), it served its purpose well and the content and delivery were engaging enough to keep me interested. It’s worth noting that this is particularly important when the lure of TV, Xbox or simply avoiding a boring lecture are a closed laptop screen away. As with everything, content is king.

I felt like I was getting the same lesson that any student at Emory University would get, and this was important to me.  I didn’t want to feel like I was being taught something that I could find easily on YouTube, there had to be some added value within the course. I learned more than enough to justify my time taking the course and it didn’t feel too removed from traditional education other than the fact I could choose when to consume the content.

But there were a couple of areas which stood out and made the process different for me. The first was that people were very quick to dismiss parts of the course or exams and claim greater knowledge than the lecturer in the course forums, which made me feel slightly uncomfortable and question why some of the students would choose to be on a course they clearly felt they didn’t need. There were equally good comments and discussion which were incredibly useful, but the bad ones stood out to me. I can’t imagine students doing this in a traditional face to face setting.

The second was the way the assessments were approached. I’ve never liked exams, an entire grade based on a couple of hours worth of work has never really added up for me, so my first thoughts were that I’d probably fail. But these exams were slightly different, they were essentially an online quiz, there was no time limit and I could use all of the available course materials to help,  I just had to ‘promise’ not to use anything else, so Google and Wikipedia were out of the question.

Having the course materials available provided some comfort, at least I could trawl through the hours of video and course transcripts, searching for any answers I didn’t have. What I found though, was that having the opportunity to review answers and find answers I didn’t know, actually reinforced all the learning I had done in the course. Rather than being an assessment of the work I had done so far, the exam became an active part of the learning. I was able to fill in the gaps and parts of the course I wasn’t so sure of and answer the questions on the way. Previously these were the points where I would have to just guess the answer. Passing or failing became less important to me than the process of learning and taking in the content, I was enjoying knowing where I was right and determined to figure out where I was wrong.

Strangely, I found that while I’d preferred the video content for consumption of the lectures, I was using mainly the written content for review during the exam. I’d also much preferred taking the exam at a computer and found the integration of video, quizzes and more traditional content made for a more interesting and complete learning experience which led to me not only passing the course but also coming away feeling like I’d learnt something.

So now I know when to use a notch filter and how to analyse a spectrogram,  which is just a small portion of what I learnt, and all of which has become useful in my job here at The University of Derby. I’m still a little underwhelmed by the way video was used overall, but I know we are already doing good things here at Derby, using video in new ways that really enhance teaching and learning. I hope we can carry that forward as our own online course offerings increase.

A Place for Competitions in Education?

Some rights reserved by Mark McLaughlin

Some rights reserved by Mark McLaughlin

…and not the general concept of competition between students (such as the annual Derbot challenge); I mean competitions organised and judged by third parties, but still in the same field as a student’s area of study.

Would encouraging students to seek out and enter such competitions, provide valuable real-world exposure to their intended occupation, or unnecessarily restrict the boundaries of their learning and divert attention away from their studies?

Not wanting to sit on the fence, I would argue that they can be very beneficial – particularly within the creative disciplines, where they seem most common.

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Using a Horseman’s Pick to Hammer in Nails

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Maciej Szczepańczyk

The initial title for this post was going to follow the cliche of “technology as a double edged sword” – the basis being that a sword sharp on both edges wielded wildly could do you as much damage as your opponent.  Of course in education we’re hoping not to harm anyone; so the idea of a horseman’s pick – with a potentially useful tool on one side and a potentially painful mistake on the other – seemed more appropriate.

On the whole we’re very encouraged to see an increased use of Learning Technologies in appropriate scenarios; but some of these recent uses have encountered problems.  As well as being frustrating for academic staff and students, it is very frustrating for us to see somebody take a technology, apply it in an ideal learning context, but then be put off using it again because of problems encountered.

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Augmented Reality as Master

Below is a recently released student film that seems far more interesting that the Google’s Project Glass.  Some of the highlights are at 1:15, where the real-world environment is turned into a game, and the main talking point at 3:07 – when the dating app comes in.

Sight from Sight Systems on Vimeo.

However, despite the unsettling ending (which you might expect from Science Fiction) the reference to Master in the title of this post isn’t Master-Slave.  It’s in reference to Augmented Reality’s potential uses in the Master-Apprentice relationship – learning under individually tailored, guided instruction.

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7 things to look for when choosing a mobile app for education

Charlie Davis and I were having a chat in the office the other day about what you should look for when choosing an educational mobile app. Here are some of our thoughts, but feel free to add more via the comments on the blog.

App Store Cost: Free is brilliant but if this is not available a free version which you can try out is also important. It provides you with an opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ working out if you feel it provides educational value and that the students can engage with it. Watch out for those services which require you to upgrade after a specific time period or usage level. Freemium software can be very annoying, particularly if you build up content over a period of time and then discover that suddenly you will have to pay for it! Continue reading

Is all that summative feedback worthwhile? Discuss.

Prof Graham Gibbs made the keynote address this year’s  University’s LTA conference on  July 5th.  His talk was videoed by our TEL’s video team and can be viewed further down in this post.

The  Learning Technology team and I would imagine most others at UoD found his talk challenging and stimulating. Although there was little per se about the focus of this blog, learning technologies,  the implications of his arguments are considerable and impact on what has been a major priority for us and many academics over the last year, the provision of electronic feedback to students, or as it is now frequently referred to, feedforward strategies. Continue reading

The gifts of feedback, but how do we get our students to open them?

The following post was written by Sheila Mclaughlin, a lecturer in Tourism at the University of Derby, Buxton.

Our new Turnitin digital submission system and assessment facility provides a wonderful step forward in being able to provide slick and timely feedback but how do we get more of our students to engage with it?

The dashboard on Turnitin shows us by a silhouetted image the students who have visited their marked assessment for more than 30 seconds.  This means there is a slim chance that a few may have clicked in and down loaded without being detected.

A recent cohort of 99 level 4 students from a range of programmes were emailed to announce the availability of their provisional grades and feedback, this resulted in a 75% response rate but what of the other 25% who did not view their feedback (incidentally with provisional grades ranging from NS/F to A+).  A subsequent specific reminder to the non engagers provided no improvement to the response rate.

Will the students look later in the summer or never bother?  Does that matter?

Many authors have written on the subject including Dennis (1999).who noted immediacy of feedback as the extent to which a medium enables users to give rapid feedback on the communications they receive which fantastically our new system supports.  According to Wiggins (1993) useful and timely feedback is an absolute requirement of any authentic test.  Whilst Chickering,  Gamson and Poulsen (1987) include prompt feedback in their Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education:

  1. Encourages contact between students and faculty;
  2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students;
  3. Encourages active learning;
  4. Gives prompt feedback;
  5. Emphasizes time on task;
  6. Communicates high expectations;
  7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

Those authors believe that assessment without timely feedback contributes little to learning.  Hattie and Timperley (2007) identify key issues relative to  the type of feedback, the way it is given and the timing of feedback in their work entitled The Power of Feedback.

So how can we give the opportunity for our feedback to be powerful?

A few of the Buxton academics have gained some success in engaging the students with their feedback through announcing availability of provisional grades within the 3 week turnaround, then hiding (burying) the grades in amongst the digital feedback comments within the scripts.  It would appear that the opportunity to gain provisional grades is one incentive to engage with feedback.

Small scale initial student feedback is positive on ‘hiding grades’ as an incentive.  Clearly more student and staff experiences and views need to be gained.  Could we start the ball rolling on this via this blog.  It would be perhaps help us all if you would note your percentage student response experiences, incentives/anything you have found to be effective and views on the way forward.

Some of thinking goes onto question whether engagement and real benefit from feedback could be derived from integrating feedback into PDP activities. Whilst some may do this already, views by blog response to the suggestion of the following series of activities for PDP could be very insightful.

  1. Start of each semester, PDP activity for all students to undertake charted analysis of their assessment feedback, particularly relative to improvement suggestions (York University for example require academics to provide 3 clear improvement points);
  2. From the analysis for each student as part of PDP to then develop say 3 SMART objectives for improvement;
  3. For the student again to develop mini strategies (action plan) as to how they will achieve those objectives;
  4. At the end of the semester for each student to undertake a mini reflection on achievement or otherwise of their objectives.

Could such PDP activity be readily set up through IT as an online process, perhaps with online video guidance?