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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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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.

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.

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.

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…

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