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Moodle 2: Improving the help functions

January 24, 2013 1 comment

One of the common critiques of Moodle is that when you need some information on how to do stuff, it may take you some time finding what you are looking for and the information may not always be available in the most user friendly fashion.

moodle_docsMoodle 2 promises a range of interesting and useful tools. However at times, might leave us feeling exasperated when we look up that guidance sheet and realise it doesn’t contain what we need. Or that we may be referred to another resource all of which wastes more time. Or that we might have preferred another type of resource for e.g a short video since this may suit our learning style.

The forthcoming move to the latest version of Moodle (Moodle 2) has given us the opportunity to think about the many ways we provide guidance on Moodle and what may need revisiting. Not least of these is the structure of the Moodle guidance area. To address this, the Moodle 2 guidance working group(consisting of Educational Technologists from across the University) have been looking at how we provide resources for staff and students that are both engaging and inspiring, accommodate a range of learning styles and are available at our finger tips.

Currently resources are provided through Moodle in the form of a ‘teaching with Moodle‘ module. The educational technologists in each school provide a variation of this module dependent on their needs. In addition, one to ones and small group sessions are also on hand in schools for staff and students. A recent QAA report highlighted that students had rated the Moodle resources to be helpful. Since moodle is an open source product, there is scope yet, for adapting the guides to meet local needs.

Having taken some advice from universities such as Lancaster, Bath and UCL, the Moodle 2 Guidance WG are structuring a guidance area that will include all the SLE related technologies. The guidance area will adopt a more user friendly format and include how to guides, frequently asked questions(FAQs), demonstration and best practice ideas. A workshop is being planned to help build up the training materials and the guidance will be ready when staff commence training from Easter. More details to follow soon.

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.

Artist helps students to visualise Learning Space design at City

January 16, 2013 1 comment
Artist Susie Howarth sketching student's learning space ideas

Artist Susie Howarth sketching students’ learning space ideas

Quick fire sketches of student's ideas for learning spaces

Susie Howarth’s quick-fire sketches of students’ ideas for City University learning spaces

 Dont Walk Away, Have Your Say! was an LDC event at the end of last term on the main walkway, aiming  to capture student views and promote three of the ongoing LDC projects. I invited artist Susie Howarth to visualise students ideas on learning space design. With major building work scheduled at City and imminent redesign of several existing spaces, this was an opportunity for students to put their views across.  So whilst I interviewed passing students, Susie did quick-fire real time sketches of their ideas. This created quite a buzz and interestingly a  high proportion of their ideas resonated with the LDC’s  design principles for all learning spaces at City. These include having a full menu of different, inviting, dynamic and flexible spaces that communicate the pride we have in learning at City University

Everyone  interviewed had strong ideas and feelings about our current and future learning spaces. Here is just a small sample:

Circular design of some classrooms and lecture spaces, so students can see each other and the lecturer is central, not on a distant stage.

Small outlets for snacks and drinks placed just outside large lecture theatres, for students who need to quickly get to the next class and have no time to queue in the refectory.

Circular tables, furniture on wheels and easily moved

Swivel chairs in lecture theatres, so we can do group work activities

All walls with write-on surfaces in classrooms

Comfortable seating

Public celebration of student excellence: students’ work displayed, either physically or on screens

More curves please! In walls and furniture, not just rectangular boxes

Bright contemporary lighting, maybe use lighting in some way to change the colour of the walls to reflect different types of learning activity: reflective, active etc.

Small soundproofed pods for quiet study and individual work

Having an artist present to make instant sketches gave the students a great stimulus to put their ideas forward and led to much  animated discussion on what is clearly a hot topic for students and paramount to their experience of being at City.

7 things you should know about Lecture Capture

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment

OTLTWhat is it?

Lecture Capture includes a range of technologies used for digitally recording and distributing lectures. These recordings involve some combination of text, audio and video. The video could be of the lecturer, a whiteboard, a chalkboard, a screencast or any combination of video feeds available (Dey et al., 2009; Gosper, et al., 2008).

Who’s doing it?

Lecture Capture, though still a relatively young research area, continues to gain momentum across the globe. In London, Institutions such as LSE,UCL, Queen Mary and Imperial seem to be leading the way.

What are the Benefits?

While not intended as a replacement for in-class instruction, lecture capture offers three important benefits: an alternative when students miss class; an opportunity for content review, particularly when abstruse topics are introduced or detailed procedures are performed; and content for online course development.

What does the research say about lecture capture usage?

Pennsylvania State University reports on trends in lecture capture research and provides some common reasons for leveraging lecture capture. These include convenience for students, reviewing for exams, enhancing students understanding of concepts from class, note taking and reviewing materials if students miss classes. More studies as well as insights into other universities usage of lecture capture are now being conducted across the board on lecture capture and can be viewed here.

In a recent small scale study of lecture capture of 1,000 students run by the School of Arts and Social Sciences; results showed that 91% of students used lecture recordings and 93% of students said lecture recordings helped their exam revision and assignment preparation.

Why is Lecture Capture important?

Students generally value lecture capture because it gives them the ability to go back and review lecture materials in their own time at their own pace.  This is particularly useful for revision. Through some of the studies reported above, lecture capture may offer additional support for students who speak English as a second language as well as students who may have learning difficulties.

Lecturers value the recording of their lectures because it gives them the ability to help students grasp difficult concepts and provide revision opportunities. Some lecturers worry that students may cut classes in favour of viewing captured lectures.  However recorded lectures are being seen as an opportunity by some lecturers to flip the classroom i.e use class time to conduct group activities to supplement the lecture material.

How does it work?

At City University London, the lecture capture system being used is Echo360. This system is integrated into AV Pods in a few rooms. More information on rooms that contain lecture capture are listed below. Pushing a single button is normally enough to activate the system and begin capturing a lecture. Recordings can be viewed on the web or in formats compatible with MP3 players and portable video devices.

Which learning spaces can I use to record lectures?

The lecture capture working group have enabled the system in several spaces across the Institution. This group intends to expand lecture capture next academic year.  The lecture theatres and other rooms that currently hold the equipment for staff to record material for students are:

Oakden, Geary,Oliver Thompson and ELG19 lecture theatre  and The Mill, Goswell Place.

If you have any further thoughts on lecture capture, please do raise under comments. If you’d like to be part of the lecture capture ‘revolution’ please do  contact your ed. tech team.

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.

Moodle 2: The look and feel of it

December 21, 2012 Leave a comment

As the case with all SLE Working groups, the Moodle look and feel working group have also been busy paving the way to a new look and feel of Moodle with the emphasis on making it a good ‘user‘ experience. All of this work is being done taking into account schools and their requirements as well as making Moodle much more engaging and consistent to both staff and students. The group have also been working hard to ensure that staff and students don’t have a completely new system to start from scratch but are provided with some extras that ensure that there can be an integrated and intuitive learning environment for all.

Of course none of this can be done without obtaining staff and students’ views on how they find using Moodle as it stands at the moment. With the help of  Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design at City, user testing(both staff and students) took place in November and December 2012. The scenarios and tasks aimed to test the following areas across both Moodle 1.x and Moodle 2.x included:
• MyMoodle
• Module Details
• Assignment Submissions and
• Calendar

confusion1

A report has been collated which has been used to inform the recommendations passed on for the design brief. Some of the main problem areas identified were about:

-the ease with which students needed to use the system so for example it wasn’t always clear how My Moodle could be adapted to suit the person. Students tended not to notice the edit button for instance.

-students often wanted to have access to their timetables which were not available through Moodle. City Law School does provide access to timetables within Moodle so this is something that can be enhanced.

-Whilst users appeared to like the fact that each module had it’s own personality, there appeared to be a lack of consistency across different
module details pages.

In addition to these findings, the working group also set about seeking to identify what other institutions sites on Moodle looked like. Here’s a helpful Moodle theme exploration video devised by Matt Jenner at UCL. This was necessary to see if Moodle’s look could be future-proofed and ensure that we knew enough about what we are competing against.  Exciting to note is that there will be a fully mobile friendly page, which will make moodle much more usable on a mobile device. As well as that there will of course be a new improved MyMoodle page and module homepage (course format). We aim to keep you posted through weekly vignettes so have a lovely Christmas and watch out for new postings in 2013.

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