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Students come up with creative ideas for displaying their work

Helping a cohort of 52 business students to design and curate their exhibition of the 11 week Reflective Practitioner module provided an interesting opportunity for students to come up with imaginative ways of displaying their work.

Task   The exhibition design, artefacts and curation represented a piece of course work, and two streams of students were asked to make a joint exhibition. The two groups worked independently until week 10, only being able to liaise in week 11 and on the day of the event. Students elected to take on specific roles and tasks, and had responsibility for devising and making displays. A very large number of artefacts needed to be displayed.

Venue   The Drysdale Lecture Theatre, lobby area and boardroom. We had access one and a half hours ahead of the exhibition opening to the public.

Process   From week 2 students were introduced to the idea of the exhibition, and over the course momentum built, including a vital integrative workshop in week 10 when as many exhibits were prepared as possible. Students also worked in groups on a plan of the space, producing some excellent space designs. Students were mindful of providing a space that would enable up to 60 guests to circulate, plus a reception table, and space for visitors’ feedback.

How students came up with creative solutions

Living  Exhibits  Each student elected to wear a badge inviting guests to interact with them on a particular theme of the module.

Gazebo  For a fantastic central focus, the basic framework of a small garden gazebo was used to display 52 three-dimensional story cubes, representing the special qualities of each student but also, symbolically brought together into a single organisation.

Bathroom suckers We sourced plastic sucker “towel” hooks to suspend lines of cord, from which visitors added their handwritten feedback on luggage labels.

Boxes Large Cardboard boxes were designed by students to display quotes, images and photos.

Lessons Learned  

The opportunity to display their work afforded the learning from the module to be made visible to external guests, to the wider institution, and to prospective students and  parents (it coincided with an open day.) Our students have great ability to understand and collaborate together on designing and enhancing learning spaces. Given the success of this exhibition perhaps we should ensure that any future learning spaces build in to their design ways to display work. Simple ideas can turn a space into a display area, including hooks placed at the top of walls for hanging work, more flexible spot lighting that can be used to illuminate displays and better designed mobile display boards.

   

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The New Learning Space: Experiences of Three Different Classes

January 24, 2013 1 comment

My final blog post reflecting on newly implemented practices last year is a long-overdue write-up of my experiences teaching different classes in one of City’s innovative Learning Spaces, which have been much talked about recently on Educational Vignettes. I have followed the Learning Spaces project with interest since its inception, so I was delighted that in Summer Term, I was able to book one of the rooms, which have been heavily in demand all year.

In May and June 2012, I ran three classes conceived with the new space in mind, which, between them, covered a variety of different fields of study (study skills, popular music, and classical music) and types of teaching (tutorial, seminar, and lecture-based). My view is that it simply would not have been possible to have taught these classes in the same way in a traditional classroom, and that the new Learning Space enabled a more interactive, engaging, and stimulating manner of teaching.

(1) First-year tutor group on SWOT and Time Management, 14 May 2012

First-year tutor group on SWOT and Time ManagementFor this tutorial session, intended to deliver academic skills to first-year undergraduates to smooth the transition to tertiary education, I had prepared two tasks they were to complete in pairs. The one that especially benefitted from the Learning Space was the SWOT task, for which, having explained the basics, I asked the students to write down strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats on separate sticky labels which were then affixed on the wall-based glass panels under headings I had previously stuck to the wall. (We could have used the special pens on the glass instead of sticky notes, but when I tested this beforehand, the writing turned out to be not particularly visible.)

Given that students tend to love sitting behind tables and having the space to put everything on the surface in front of them, I was particularly interested to see that when they entered the classroom, they immediately arranged the chairs in a line, moving them away from the tables and towards the centre of the room (see picture, right). Despite having a relatively large space for such a small group, with several tables to choose from, when I asked them to split up and move to different tables, they all clustered around the same table to begin with and I had to encourage them to break out into pairs. Nonetheless, I suspect that more groupwork than pairwork surreptitiously took place…

The students did acknowledge that the chairs were not at quite the right heights for the tables, and that the two parts of the petal tables made for an awkward height difference for the person sat at the join. I also observed with interest that the student who sat on the highest chair was the one who took the lead in discussion!

(2) Second-year seminar on Television Talent Discovery Shows, 22 May 2012

In my next class in the Learning Space, I adopted a similar teaching method in commencing the seminar by inviting students, working in groups of 2-4, to write down on sticky notes as many acts associated with UK television talent discovery shows since 2000 as they could recall, and then to place them under the headings I had previously put up on the glass wall panels. I asked students to place sticky notes featuring the same name together in order easily to garner a sense of the number of students who had recollected a particular act. The photograph (below left) shows a few of the students in action, some affixing their sticky notes to the wall, others discussing in their small groups or verifying information online via their mobile devices.

Second-year seminar on Television Talent Discovery ShowsThe results of the task were rather revealing, and my feeling is that they could not have been achieved, nor could the ensuing discussion have been as effective, via any other teaching method. For instance, many students remembered recent winners such as Little Mix (The X Factor, 2011), but had more difficulty recollecting some of the winners in previous years’ competitions. Conversely, other notable acts from previous years who did not win their associated show (such as Susan Boyle [Britain’s Got Talent, 2009] or Jedward [The X Factor, 2009]) had evidently remained in their memory. There were other telling outcomes as well, which would have been difficult to predict: as an example, several students recalled The Cheeky Girls, but they could not match them to the correct show (Popstars: The Rivals, 2002).

During the class, I invited the students to walk around the room and look at the finished display on the wall panels for themselves. I had also prepared PowerPoint slides with more exhaustive information about the acts associated with particular television shows and seasons, with which we were able to fill in the gaps. Afterwards, I went round the room video-taping the display before it was taken down, and uploaded the video to Moodle as a permanent record of the session. The classroom’s swivel chairs also helpfully facilitated an impromptu re-enactment by four of us of the judges on The Voice UK!

(3) Second-year lecture on Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, 29 May 2012

The final class was perhaps the most conventional, and one that I have presented several times in a classroom set out in lecture-format. Nonetheless, I wanted to use the new Learning Space to be able move the tables and chairs easily to create sufficient space for a live task undertaken by several unwitting student volunteers during the lecture. I do recall feeling much more exposed, standing in the centre of a comparatively wide space and speaking to students sitting at tables on the periphery, than I would have done in a room arranged as for a traditional lecture.

Possibly the highlight of the class was the attempt on the part of myself and several students to copy the original choreography of a particular passage of The Rite of Spring, in order to understand the challenges presented by the highly controversial dancing, the way in which it fits with the music, and the disjuncture between the composer’s intentions and the choreographer’s. Needless to say, the idea that ‘learning can be fun’ took on a whole new level. There is some video footage of this, taken by a student on her mobile device – not for the first time – but I very much hope it never surfaces!

Shareville

January 22, 2013 2 comments

Shareville is an online learning resource developed by the e-learning team at Birmingham City University. In essence, it is a virtual town with a hospital, university, school, law practice and care home. Environments are presented as 3D panoramas that students can explore, accessing material relevant to their area of study.

The shareville website, showcasing a patient in the virtual hospital

The shareville website, showcasing a patient in the virtual hospital

Much of this comprises of video scenarios: when a character in a location is clicked, the user is presented with a short video showcasing the character’s circumstances, followed with questions about it. Different answers lead to different consequences, again shown as a video. Quite complex scenarios can be simulated and decisions explored.

A clip from a Shareville video scenario

A clip from a Shareville video scenario

As well as videos, other resources can be accessed including documents, pictures and websites. For example, a room in the care home may have several characters each with their own situation, a filing cabinet full of relevant documents, a telephone with answer phone messages on it and so forth. It certainly leads to a more immersive and engaging way of learning.

Use at City

The School of Health Sciences at City University London has recently started using the system in their own teaching and, working with the MILL, developed their own scenarios to populate one of the rooms in Shareville’s Children’s Health Centre. These scenarios are aimed at student nurses and showcase a teenage girl with mild autism, a toddler with Downs and a young boy with hyperactivity. The scenarios explore how a nurse should deal with patients and their parents, who often need most of the help and support.

Children with their parents and the nurse

Children with their parents and the nurse

The videos were filmed in the MILL’s TV studio against blue screen – the idea being that the characters can be placed into the computer generated rooms of Shareville. There’s a good reason for this – some of the locations, such as care homes and hospitals, are impossible to film in and so a virtual computer-generated set is the only solution.

Filming against the TV Studios blue screen

Filming against the TV Studios blue screen

They say never work with children or animals but as it turned out, the filming went without issue and all the children, none of whom were professional actors, did an admirable job on the day.

Several issues did arise though. Although the MILL has a brand new blue screen, it was quite difficult to light evenly and we had to combat several dark shadows under tables and chairs. Also, the room had quite an echo that made the sound a little too deep. A way to combat this would have been to use lapel microphones, but these would have to be hidden under clothing with the risk of rubbing. Plus, toddlers and microphones are not the best combination!

Panasonic GH2

Panasonic GH2

It was also a good test for the MILLs new camera, a Panasonic GH2 dSLR. The video recorded was of impressive quality but a big issue did arise. The camera’s video format is 4:2:1, which means the colour information is recorded at a much lower resolution than the brightness information. Although the footage looked fantastic, when the blue background was removed the edges of characters and furniture became quite blocky and not particularly sharp. Getting it to look good took a lot of tweaking with the blue screen filter. One way to avoid this would have been to use an external capture drive, using a recording format with higher colour detail, say 4:2:2. This would have lead to much smoother edges. Still, considering these limitations the final footage looked really good.

At the moment, the video is with Birmingham City University ready to be dropped into the computer-generated environment, but see below for a still before and after blue screen removal.

Before and after blue screen removal

Before and after blue screen removal

We hope that in future, more scenarios can be filmed for use in the school and perhaps other schools can find a use for what seems to be an innovative and useful teaching resource.

Moodle 2: Here’s looking at what’s around the corner

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

ImageAs has already been posted in educational vignettes, Moodle is being upgraded at City University, London in the next three months. Before that happens, all ed. tech teams are on the go trying to ensure that Moodle 2 gets the full body treatment! This blog provides you with an update on what the Moodle implementation working group are doing to provide staff and students with the best possible Moodle 2 experience.

Those who are fanatical about Moodle will know that the latest version was released in late 2010. This version has been hailed as a ‘more improved version’ and the answer to many of the requests from the community of users and that of the technical developers. As an example discussed before, the way we upload files is most certainly going to be faster and better. The ed.tech team at City University, London is taking a good look at Moodle 2 to make this upgrade an opportunity to reflect on what Moodle can offer as a learning environment, what can change, what needs promotion and what needs attention.

The Moodle 2 implementation working group are testing current functionality to make sure everything is as expected.  They will also be testing new functionality to ensure that we can better support our academic staff and students in using Moodle. The testing involves some use of scenarios on schools experience however this is only replicated in some processes. This will ensure that the tools deliver on what is expected. The testing process described has begun and all ed. tech teams are involved. It is anticipated that the testing will be completed by the end of March.

As we move towards Moodle 2, we will be publishing more details on this in the coming months. We will also be thinking proactively about how staff and students will be trained whilst making sure we spend some time hearing your thoughts, sharing with you some exciting new stuff and generally making sure we are listening to you to make Moodle better than ever before. Please do get in touch with us or your ed. tech team if you are interested in knowing more.

Blogs for Learning and Teaching: More then just a passing phase

January 3, 2013 3 comments

blog-wordleLearning and Teaching blogs

Over the last few years, you may have found yourself subscribing to various blogs. These tend to provide bite sized information on areas that interest you. For instance our educational vignettes(created by the Learning Development Centre) enables the dissemination of case studies, reviews, and guidance on learning and teaching in general. However you may have also found that in some cases, there are other blogs that your local edtech team produces too. 

In this article, I will provide a brief overview as well as the noted benefits of using blogs for research and/or teaching purposes. I will also provide information on how blogs are being used at the University and how you might like to set up your own blog.

History of Blogging

The origins of the blog is the subject of some debate, but according to Blood (2000), the phrase ‘web log’ was first used by Barger (1997) and the shortened version by Merholz in 1999 (Merholz, 2002). Blogging as a phenomenon started to increase steadily after this time, and then there was an explosion in the number of blogs when the first free, do it yourself blogging tools became available in mid-1999, most notably Blogger.com.

Since 2003 there has been over 70 million blogs created, each with their own version of news. So the big deal about blogs is that it gives people like us the power of the media and has created a personal kind of news that appeals to a high number of small audiences. A simplified visual explanation of blogs can be viewed here.

The Benefits of Blogging

In relation to learning and teaching, blogging can be advantageous in a range of situations namely:

  • lecturers can provide feedback and monitor students performance more effectively;
  • it promotes self-assessment and continued assessment;
  • it promotes personal reflection and
  • it enables tracking of all the process (both by students and lecturers).

Priego a new lecturer at City London argues that blogging is the ultimate form of collegiality – if we understand collegiality as the relationship of professional colleagues united in a common purpose and respecting each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose. Priego suggests that blogging is already a multi-tool for today’s academic, whether early-career, established or somewhere in between. Useful for both researching and rehearsing ideas, it can even be an early form of publication.

How blogs are being used by students at City

At City, blogs are being used in various ways by both lecturers and students. Some examples of student blogs include:

  • recording Personal Development Planning (PDP) activities;
  • charting project progress;
  • managing group projects;
  • collaborating on the development of course resources;
  • commenting on lecturer-led blogs and
  • interacting with guest speakers.

The latest blog of blogs

Matt Lingard’s team at City have found a way to pull blogs that focus primarily on education and technology. There is now a new Education & Technology blog at the university. EdTech: Education & Technology is an innovative blog of blogs. It pulls together posts written by staff at the university from 8 different blogs (including this one!). So, rather than following 8 blogs, you can get them all in one place by visiting http://blogs.city.ac.uk/edtech, by signing up for email updates or subscribing to the RSS Feed.

As noted, the blogs are a mixture of team, individual & more general ones providing a wide variety of posts including case studies, conference reports, technology news, teaching ideas & much more. EdTech: Education & Technology will be of interest to a wide audience both inside and beyond the university.

How does it work?

The EdTech blog is powered by RSS feeds (RSS or News feeds are links to web pages that are read by computers and allow content to be moved around the web). It uses a ‘plugin’ to the main university Edublogs service called FeedWordPress. This imports blog posts from the 8 source blogs via their RSS Feeds. It’s an automated process requiring only minimal human intervention to classify the incoming posts.

Variations of a ‘blog of blogs’

This blog of blogs model could be used for combining any collection of blogs or other RSS/news feeds.  For example a cohort of students’ individual blogs could be combined into a class blog or a collection of news updates from mainstream media could be combined create a single rich contextual resource for students.

How do I start blogging?

To request a blog, log your request with the IT Service Desk. You can set up a private blog to support learning and teaching activities or you can request a public blog to publicise the work of your department.

So over to you, if you’d like to share your thoughts on blogging please do so under comments. If you’d like to find out more about blogs and how they can be used to support your research and/or teaching, please do contact your ed. tech team or the LDC.

Twitter in the University Classroom: Live-Tweeting During Lectures

January 3, 2013 3 comments

My second blog post reflecting on teaching innovations of 2012 is dedicated to my use of Twitter during one undergraduate module in the year just passed. My original intention, in embedding a Twitter widget within one of my Moodle pages, was merely to issue the occasional message to students to aid communication of, for instance, my progress with marking of their assessments. However, when I announced our ‘official’ Twitter hashtag to the students, to my surprise and delight, they started to use it not just for my module but to tweet about other areas of the programme as well. Even students not on the module started using the hashtag!

A few weeks into my module, I discovered that students who brought to class mobile devices that were connected to the wireless network (see my previous post on BYOD) had been tweeting on the lecture during the lecture, prompting me to tweet back during the break. At this point, with the help of several colleagues from the Learning Development Centre (thanks are due to Neal Sumner, Siân Lindsay, and particularly Ajmal Sultany), I investigated a means of live-tweeting during lectures without interrupting the rest of the teaching such as my use of PowerPoint and audiovisual examples.

Chris Wiley - Live-Tweeting During LecturesHaving looked into a number of different desktop-based Twitter clients to see whether they would meet my rather specific requirements, I found that Twhirl worked perfectly, with a search set up for the hashtag. I needed to increase the number of seconds for which the desktop alert is displayed, to give the students sufficient time to read it before it disappeared (I have to confess that since the alerts are only visible for c.15 seconds, a student and I had to mock up the photograph, right). I also found it necessary to lower the resolution on my laptop, because otherwise the alerts would have appeared off the far right-hand side of the screen when projected through the teaching pod.

It took a little while to get it just right, but having found workarounds for the various technological and logistical challenges, in several classes (with the aid of my trusty iPad) I provided a running Twitter feed before, during, and after the lecture, which helped keep students’ attention focussed on the key points and issues particularly when audiovisual examples were playing. A few students (though perhaps not as many as I’d hoped) followed my lead and tweeted their own thoughts too, all of which were displayed in real-time on the projector screen at the front of the classroom. We also received tweets from former students who have taken the module in the past, from staff elsewhere in the University who picked up news of the lectures via Twitter, and even, occasionally, retweets from users unknown to us – an ideal reminder that we were discussing real-life issues that have a bearing on the real world, beyond the confines of the University.

Disadvantages to live-tweeting include that the author of a given message is publicly identified rather than anonymous (perhaps this was why some students were using the hashtag only outside the classroom, rather than having their tweets appear on the projector screen during class), and that the tutor cannot anticipate the appearance or content of a tweet so there is a danger that it might interrupt the flow of the lecture. Nonetheless, although an ambitious undertaking it did seem to be an effective way of using Twitter to enhance teaching, without placing it at the centre of teaching. It also provided a novel means of engaging the students – including some who might not have been quick to contribute to face-to-face class discussion.

Were I to take Twitter back into the University classroom in the future, there are a couple of additional possibilities I might seek to implement. One is to pass a mobile device or two round the class and appoint specific students to be responsible for providing a running Twitter commentary for a given lecture. Another is to embed tweets within my PowerPoint presentation via add-in Twitter Tools, such that they are automatically posted (and the alert received) upon reaching the associated slide. Using these Twitter Tools, it is even possible to include a tweet cloud in a PowerPoint presentation, and to embed a real-time Twitter ticker feed at the bottom of each slide, which might ultimately obviate the need to use a desktop-based client. Much to think about for 2013!

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): How Staff are Responding to the Mobile Technologies Their Students Bring With Them to Class

December 23, 2012 2 comments

The end of the year yields an opportune time to reflect upon various teaching innovations that have been discussed, written about, and presented earlier in the year, but which have not yet been included on the Educational Vignettes website. In this, the first of a series of end-of-year posts, I offer some thumbnail sketches of initiatives implemented in my teaching during 2012 to embrace mobile technologies with which students have been engaging to support their in-class learning – but with which, crucially, I was myself comparatively unfamiliar.

It can certainly be offputting to a tutor for the students’ attentions to be apparently divided between the lecture and their mobile devices; but this year I have seen evidence that, far from being a distraction, even the unsolicited use of mobile technologies by students can actually lead to their being more engaged in class. For example, in one lecture, when discussing crossover between classical musicians and popular music, I alluded to a Los Angeles-based string collective, the Vitamin String Quartet, who have released a fascinating series of albums of arrangements of popular music. Moments later, the whole class heard the unmistakeable sounds of a string quartet emanating from one corner of the room – one of the students had looked up the group’s website on her laptop, but had forgotten to ensure that she had turned off the sound…

Another such instance seems rather appropriate to this time of year : I was chatting to a student after a lecture who rather impressed me by dropping into conversation that Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was the only track ever to have reached the UK singles Christmas No. 1 spot twice, in 1975 and 1991. When I asked him how he knew this, he reminded me that during the lecture, I had mentioned that the Spice Girls were the only act to have attained three consecutive Christmas No.1s (1996-98). His interest had been sufficiently piqued by this piece of information that he had used his mobile device to call up a list of UK Christmas No.1s, and noticed the double appearance of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ there.

Versions of the two case studies below were previously presented at the School of Arts and Social Sciences Teaching and Learning Fête on 20 March 2012, and I am indebted to several colleagues at the Learning Development Centre without whose input and advice many of my endeavours this year simply would not have been possible.

Impromptu lecture-capture

Punk rock lectureIn a lecture on punk rock earlier in the year, a few students and I re-enacted the infamous interview between the Sex Pistols and Bill Grundy broadcast live on primetime Thames Television back in 1976. Reconstructions based on archived footage are available, but we decided that it would be more fun and interactive for the students to come to the front and recreate the experience for themselves. Given the relatively large number of people involved in the task, one student remarked that at this rate there would be nobody left in the class – to which I responded that this was very much in keeping with the belief-system at the centre of punk rock: the idea that anybody can get up on stage and be a performer.

Perhaps most interesting was one student who declared that she would be playing a role I had not even considered – that of the cameraman. She filmed our entire reconstruction using her mobile device (from which the screenshot, above right, is taken), thereby taking the notion of student ownership of their teaching and learning to a whole new level. (More recently, another student has written to me that his participation in the role-play was one of the most enjoyable parts of his educational experience – which is particularly revealing in that although he was indeed a part of the scene, and appears in the screenshot above, he actually had no lines to say!) The footage is now being uploaded to Moodle as a helpful reminder of the endeavour, and of the wider points it raised about punk’s do-it-yourself aesthetic.

Video podcasting of lecture summaries

Earlier in the year I was loaned an iPad by the School, and set the intriguing challenge of finding innovative ways to incorporate it within my teaching. Personal research soon led me to the Wired Educator blog in which a compelling case is made, albeit in a different context, for using the iPad for podcasting (see here). I have been audio podcasting since 2009 but switched to video (not a medium with which I am particularly comfortable) this year. My rationale for the change was that, while the pedagogical function of podcasting may be largely fulfilled by audio-only resources, images are more engaging for the students, encouraging a greater level of concentration and enabling them to see and interpret the speaker’s gestures and body language. I was also mindful of recent experiences within the institution with lecture-capture, which I have been increasingly using as the year has progressed, and of wider innovations in education such as the implementation of flipped classes.

My mode of operation was to record a podcast of 8-10 minutes in advance of each lecture, providing a summary of the key material and concepts of the associated class as well as discussing the set reading, and to release the recording via Moodle. Each podcast was intended to give the students some grounding in the content of the lecture (as well as to act as a ‘trailer’) and to provide some context on the preparatory reading, but they had an unexpected secondary function as a resource for the end-of-module examination. In the module evaluation, completed one week before the examination took place, one student wrote that “The weekly podcasts which were made were very helpful for revision” while another commented on the “Helpful podcasts on Moodle for revision purposes”.

As noted, many students already owned mobile devices upon which the podcasts could be played, downloaded, and re-watched at their convenience. For the others, I came to class every week with the podcasts pre-loaded onto my iPad (see screenshot, below) and students who did not have the opportunity to watch them in advance, or appreciated a second viewing to refresh their memories, were able to borrow my iPad for this purpose before the lecture or during the break.

Podcasts - screen capture

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