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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.

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Don’t walk away have your say: Learning Development Associates’ Event

January 16, 2013 2 comments

At the end of last year, the Learning Development Associates staged an event:  don’t walk away have your say. We spent a couple of hours collecting input into our projects by stopping students and asking them for their opinions as they walked along the main campus corridor. Participation was voluntary and rewards, in the form of a seasonal chocolate or pie, were optional.

My aim was to get a snapshot of thoughts on my project’s theme: the use of technology in physical learning environments. My hope was that any information gathered would feed into the case study evaluations I am planning for the new year. Read more…

Bradford, Animation & City University London

November 25, 2012 2 comments

Video, when made well, can be very good at engaging students in a subject and explaining concepts quickly and informatively. However, the realism of standard video can be a little dry and unsuitable for demonstrating how processes work. This is where animation can be invaluable: due to it’s artistic style and character it can be immensely engaging to watch and can be very effective at explaining concepts using simplified or abstract images, moving on the screen.


How Does Animation Work?

Each second of a movie is made up of a number of individual pictures or frames. When these frames are displayed quickly, one after another, we see the illusion of movement. Typically there are 25 frames per second, so for a 5 minute movie, that means 5x60x25 = 7500 frames. If these frames are drawn, that’s 7500 individual drawings!


Traditional Animation

In traditional animation each frame is drawn by an animator. In the golden age of animation, drawings were sketched first in pencil then an inked version created on a piece of clear cell. These cells could then be composited on top of a painted background and photographed to give a complete frame. Disney, Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbara used this technique for decades to produce some of their most famous cartoons, such as Dumbo, Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry. These days, computers are used to ink, colour and composite.

Bugs Bunny by Chuck Jones

Bugs Bunny by Chuck Jones

A lot of traditional animation is now made using Adobe Flash. This allows the animator to create a library of characters, body parts and props that can be placed onto a background stage and moved around over time. Key frames can be created (say the start and end point of an arm movement) and the software used to automatically create all the poses in between – a process known as ‘tweening’. This can speed up the animation process immensely. A very popular animation created using Flash is “Simon’s Cat” by Simon Tofield, who happens to work near to City University in Islington.

Simon Tofield and Steven McCombe at the Cartoon Museum

Simon Tofield and Steven McCombe at the Cartoon Museum

In the Media & Innovation Learning Lab (MILL) at City, I’ve created some traditional animation using Adobe After Effects. This also does tweening but has the addition of motion blur, which gives a realistic blurring look to fast-moving objects. Here’s an example…

Stop-frame Animation

In stop-frame animation, models & puppets are used instead of drawings. These are moved small amounts between frames and when played back give the impression of life. Characters are sometimes made from plastercine (in the case of “Wallace & Gromit”) or from a rubber like material, with an adjustable skeleton or armature inside.

Wallace & Gromit plastercine models

Wallace & Gromit plastercine models

One of the pioneers of stop frame animation is Ray Harryhausen, the animator behind the monsters features of the 50s and 60s, such as “Jason & the Argonauts” and the Sinbad films. Regarded as a genius of his day, his work inspired many of today’s fantasy directors and leading animators. His puppets and sketches are soon to take pride of place in a permanent exhibition at the National Media Museum in Bradford. I was lucky enough to see some of these amazingly detailed puppets, including his famous Medusa from the film “Clash of the Titans’. With snakes for hair, they all had to be individually animated.

Medusa puppet by Ray Harryhausen

Medusa puppet by Ray Harryhausen

Stop frame animation is still popular today, with several features released over the past years including “Fantastic Mr Fox”, Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” and Ardmann’s “The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists” being just a few examples. Although many of the techniques haven’t changed in decades, technology has made some big advances to the process. Colour 3D printers are used to ‘print’ different facial expressions for the characters, giving that extra bit of realism and bracketing / stands which hold up the puppets can be removed from shots using computer graphics. However, the process is still laborious and often only seconds of animation are created in a day.

Frankenweenie puppets

Frankenweenie puppets

Pirates puppets

Pirates puppets

Pirates faces made with a 3D colour printer

Pirates faces made with a 3D colour printer

Paranorman puppets

Paranorman puppets

Computer Generation Imagery or CGI

Some of the biggest advances in animation have come with the development of computer technology. With CGI, character models are moulded, painted and textured, a skeleton added and then animated – all inside the computer. The characters can be placed in elaborate sets, beautifully lit and then the resultant frames rendered out as a finished film. The beauty of computers is that changes can be made very quickly, both to the look of the visuals or the animation, and tweening can be very well controlled. As well as this, movement can be programmed so that the material in CGI clothes can flow and behave like real cloth, objects can bounce and react to forces and crowds of characters can move like a flock, behaving rules that govern the movement. Poses, facial expressions and animations can be stored and then stung together to form more complex movements.

Some of the most prominent names in CGI include Pixar, Dreamworks and of course Disney, who produce entirely CGI animated feature films and shorts. CGI is also used in blockbuster movies for combining animation with real footage seamlessly. Big names include Double Negative, MPC and The MILL in Soho (not to be confused with The MILL at City University London!)

___________

Animation has becoming hugely a hugely important part of visual entertainment, marketing, computer games and educational multimedia. There are many animation festivals and conferences in the world, some of the most important being Annecy Animation Festival in France and SIGGRAPH, the computer graphics expo. One of the best conferences in the UK is the Bradford Animation Festival (BAF), held every year at the National Media Museum. Almost 20 years old, the festival covers all things animation related, showcasing shorts and features from students, advertising, and independent animators, as well as holding detailed masterclasses from some of the biggest names in the industry. Networking and interviews with prominent people in the field are also in abundance. It’s a great place to live and breathe animation and meet others with similar interests, as well as spending time in the fantastic museum – 9 floors devoted to film, animation and photography.

Media Museum

Media Museum

Museum entrance

Museum entrance

BAF 2012

BAF 2012

9 floors

9 floors

Museum shop

Museum shop

TVs from every decade

TVs from every decade

Games Lounge

Games Lounge

I’ve been lucky enough to attend for the past several years and this year’s highlights included Double Negative talking about the special effects animation on “Total Recall”, a retrospective on “Bugs Bunny” legend Chuck Jones with his granddaughter Valerie Kausen, Laika Studios talking about stop-frame animation on “Coraline” and “Paranorman”, as well as 100s of shorts from cutting edge CGI to educational films using traditional techniques. It’s a festival that is going from strength to strength.

Valerie Kausen interviewed by Professor Paul Wells

Valerie Kausen interviewed by Professor Paul Wells

The MILL at the LDC mainly focuses on traditional video but I have been fortunate enough to produce several animations for education as well as assisting various students with their own animations. Partially for engagement, and partially to demonstrate processes clearly and effectively, each animation has it’s own character, style and charm and reaction so far has been very positive.

The trickiest piece I’ve attempted was a small film for the Law School. They requested a piece which showcased and demonstrated their Lawbore website in an engaging way. The site utilises an owl logo, so for the film I created a CGI owl and incorporated into the live action.

Lawbore Owl

Lawbore Owl

The owl talks, jumps about and has a rather interesting Scottish accent. The creation was relatively straight forward – the owl was sculped and painted with the software and a skeleton placed inside to give it movement.

Owl model and controllers

Owl model and controllers

The owl was then layered on top of the video footage and lighting adjusted so that it fitted naturally into the scene. Finally, shadows were added to give that extra bit of realism and make the owl look as if it were actually there. Probably the most difficult process was getting the beak to move in sync with the dialogue so that it looked like it was actually speaking. I did find a workaround for this rather than having to animate the beak to every bit of speech. Thankfully!

Other pieces have including animations explaining podcasting, advertising university events and many many animated title sequences for films. I’ve also created pieces in my own time for competitions, including this one for Red Bull, kindly voiced by a member of my team Sian Lindsay.

For CGI animations I use Softimage from Autodesk, which does have a large learning curve and is expensive. However, there are several free packages, the best probably being Blender. This is capable of professional results and several award-winning films have been made with it. For traditional style animation I love to use Adobe After Effects. Again, it’s not cheap and has a steep learning curve, but the results are impressive. For simple animation, Final Cut Pro can be used and students have used it to produce some very impressive stop-frame animations and title sequences. The following example by student Liz Hilder was produced by taking dozens of photographs, which were brought into Final Cut and then rendered out as a final film.

We’re left with the classic question: animation may be effective but is the reward worth the effort? It’s a question without a simple answer. If engagement is a must or a concept needs explaining clearly and cleanly, sometimes animation is not only the best option, it’s often the only option. I will finish with one of my favourite educational animations, created by the RSA. The talk itself is inspirational but the associated animation just nails the piece home. You won’t forget it in a hurry and I think it’s wonderful. Enjoy.

17th Annual SEDA Conference 2012 Excellence in Teaching: recognising, enhancing, evaluating and achieving impact

November 21, 2012 Leave a comment

I attend the above conference on Thursday 15th and Friday 16th November 2012 in Birmingham. The conference focused very much on activities to identify what “good” or “excellent” teaching is and can this measured objectively along with a range of schemes to provide recognition and reward.

 

There were some really interesting papers that explored using interviews and videos to observe teaching and then identify specific activities about good teaching but there were also many discussions about should we focus on good teaching or is it about lecturers who enhanced student learning a slightly different focus. We need to consider much more how we measure the impact on student learning of the good or excellent teaching if we really want to see the impact.

There are a range of award schemes running around the country too which now increasingly include student led schemes but these vary in how they are undertaken too. Some have just student nominations then staff decide the winners, others have student nominations and voting online but then are approved by staff and then some like ours here at City University London are student nominated and decided.

Oliver Williams from the NUS made some excellent points both about how can we ask students what excellent teaching is when we cannot always agree but also in terms of the need to work with students to discuss their expectations and their role in education.

Here is the link to my blog of the sessions I attended http://pamconferences.blogspot.co.uk/

and here is the SEDA conference website where further information can be gained http://www.seda.ac.uk/index.php?p=14_2&e=427&x=1

HeLF meeting: Personalisation of Assessment and Feedback

November 6, 2012 Leave a comment

In the last ten years, higher education has changed beyond all recognition and Heads of E-Learning will be critical to the significant changes to come.  These were some of the opening words by Professor Rikki Morgan-Tamosunas, DVC, University of Westminster, in opening the Heads of E-Learning Forum (HeLF) Meeting held on 31st October.  The theme for this year’s meetings is personalisation and E-learning Heads from around the country came together to explore Personalisation of Assessment and Feedback.

Lisa Gray from JISC gave an overview of the JISC Assessment and Feedback programme supporting and sharing results from numerous projects now running in the UK: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/assessment

Slide outlining impact of EVS on teaching

Slide from Electronic Voting Systems Presentation

How do you avoid assessment bunching on courses? Catherine Naamani from University of Glamorgan shared their Assessment Diaries project designed to ensure assessments are fairly spaced and give students an overview of all assessments across their courses including type, submission date and feedback return date.  The tool linked in with BlackBoard.

Marija Cubric shared their uses of Electronic Voting Systems, known as clickers at City, for assessment at Hertfordshire.  This technology had on the whole been well received by staff and students.  The tool was deemed easy to use and made teaching and learning more enjoyable.

Gunter Saunders and Peter Chatterton finished the day with an exploration of their Making Assessment Count (MAC) project focused on feedback.  Their presentation highlighted a project at City within broadcast journalism enabling students to reflect on assessment feedback.  This project involves Kate Reader from the School of Arts and Social Sciences and here is a presentation about the work: http://estsass.co.uk/2012/07/23/presentations-from-the-learning-city-conference/

Slide from MAC project

Also discussed here was a change management curriculum design technique called Viewpoints that involved the use of cards with principles and examples that could be used to design modules.

 

Video in Education – An invitation to our first webinar – 1pm on Thursday November 22nd, 2012

October 23, 2012 1 comment

Video in Education – a special interest group – invites you to grab a coffee and share best practice at our first webinar.

Formed in summer 2012, this group’s focus is on sharing practice within the schools, and gathering examples from other institutions, in: production and publishing of video for education; techniques for engaging staff in use of video for teaching and learning; and pedagogical principles behind video for education.

Sharing Best Practice in Educational Video at City University

Webinar – Thursday 22nd November 2012 –1pm  to 1.30pm

Webinar Room Link  (opens at 12.45pm on the day)

Event Details

  • Introduction –  Mo Pamplin
  • School of Law – Scenario-based learning video portfolios – Sophie Paluch
  • Cass Business School – Dubai MBA student research presentations – Luis Balseca
  • School of Health Science – Blood pressure self-assessment videos – Natasa Perovic

Moderators on the day, Stef Smith and Steve McCombe at the MILL

Instructions for participants:

There is no need to book a place, all City staff are welcome as are external guests.

Join the webinar room, via the link below and settle in from 12.45 pm, participants will be able to listen to the speakers, view a web cam of the speakers, watch clips from video projects and pose questions via the chat room.  We will use the Adobe Connect webinar service to host this session for up to 100 guests.

Webinar Room Link  (opens at 12.45pm on the day)

Its good to check your computer audio settings in advance, to find out more see the quick start guide.

Quick Start Guide – Participants

any enquiries, please contact the organisers via email:  video@city.ac.uk

The webinar will be recorded and made available on  this page after the event.

We look forward to meeting you on the 22nd,

Mo Pamplin

School of Arts and Social Science

space

Future Lecturing Spaces Design Forum, 20 Sept 2012

September 13, 2012 Leave a comment

The Learning Development Centre  and Property & Facilities  would like to invite staff and students to a drop in session to share ideas, thoughts and views on what you would like from future lecturing spaces at City. We want to hear from you about your lecturing, your learning, and how the spaces around you can better support you. We’re constructing the session so that people can dip in for a few minutes and give their ideas, or stay longer to talk to the architects or members of Properties and Facilities or the LDC about the wider topic of Learning Spaces.

The event will be held on Thursday 20 September 3pm – 5pm in A110 (College Building), over tea and cake. Please drop in to view the exhibition of exciting and innovative spaces from other institutions,  visuals of what some of our new spaces could look like together with  samples of furniture that may be used.  Please take the opportunity to talk to the  architect who is helping design our new spaces and talk to members of the Learning Spaces Group about the work they have done on lecture spaces and collaborative learning.   It should be a vibrant and inter-active session.

If you would like to attend for catering purposes please RSVP to Marcia Rose – Marcia.Rose.1.city.ac.uk

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