Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

New Learning Spaces: Method of Evaluation

December 17, 2012 Leave a comment
Observation in evaluating learning spaces

Observation in evaluating learning spaces

This is a continuation of ideas being developed around the evaluation of learning spaces at City University London.

At City University London there is a need to better understand the effectiveness of new learning spaces that are being created. City University London is currently engaged in the redevelopment of its estate. A major part of this is the re-conceptualization of the Learning Spaces. The Learning Development Centre (LDC) is working closely with City’s Property and Facilities to ensure that pedagogical principles are considered in the redesigning of City University’s learning spaces.

Understanding the effectiveness of new learning spaces is crucial for two reasons: to evaluate the effectiveness of a space newly created and to prepare better for future learning spaces design and construction. As such, this formal evaluation will be a ‘post-occupancy evaluation’ of the space. It is this stage of the evaluation cycle that presents the greatest challenges in aligning the evaluation method with the rational and practical outcomes that drove design intent. However, it is also crucial as the formative model for a full design and evaluation process, and as a source of data for new informal and collaborative spaces (Lee, 2009 in Radcliffe et al, 2009).

At a broad level, it is important for educational developers and education researchers to better understand how lecturers and students relate to the new built environment and what this means for the exchange of knowledge. To this purpose, it is understood that efforts to develop more effective learning spaces need to be informed by the extensive research into environmental behaviour and psychology (Jamieson, 2007).

To this end, I am found that the observation method is a popular tool in evaluating new learning spaces (Radcliffe et al, 2009).  Observations are builds on the principle that for research into the use and effectiveness of the new learning spaces, it is best to observe what actually happens in the natural setting (Descomber, 2003) rather than to ask for thoughts retrospectively.

In line with the epistemology of participating observation, this study would enable the research team to participate in natural learning situations, enabling better understanding of the learning processes involved in the new spaces. The observations will take place in the natural learning spaces as the research team is interested in the effects of the environment on learning as it happens, rather than they happen under artificially created conditions. This allows the research team to record information as it happens and record critical incidents as they occur (Creswell, 2009).

The observation method has a number of characteristics which cannot be found in other education research methods and which are better suited in understanding the new learning spaces. These include:

  1. It directly records what the user does in the space, as distinct from what they say they do are their perception of the room.
  2. Observation is well matched with other research methods being applied in understanding the SLE and learning spaces. As it is more about the behaviour it complements well other research methods that rely mainly on sharing thoughts.
  3. When combined with contextual information, which will be the case here, observation can give significant insight on the effects of the learning space on behaviour.

We are continually working on developing our research methods for evaluating the learning spaces. Please do share your thoughts and experiences of evaluating learning spaces.

Talking Multimedia in Education

December 14, 2012 Leave a comment

As posted in Educational Vignettes  one of the investments in our Strategic Learning Environment(SLE) is about using multimedia to support and better our teaching and learning practices at City University London. This post looks at how multimedia has evolved in Education. This is combined with a quick look at some of the external and internal case studies on using multimedia in teaching. This post will also include a look at the recommendations that the Multimedia Requirements Working group are considering which is based on an analysis of all the schools needs on this topic.

header_services_multimediaCity University has a good track record of enabling academic staff to use multimedia for learning since it is a key aspect of the Strategic Learning Environment (SLE).

Why use Multimedia in Education?

There has been an increase and change in the use of multimedia (video & audio) in learning, teaching and assessment in Higher Education the last few years. This is influenced by the experience of using web 2.0 services such as You Tube and iTunes, and increasing use of mobile devices in education. Educators and students have been inspired to make, share and learn from video and audio in new ways.  Other areas such as marketing, libraries and research are also increasing their use of multimedia.

For an interesting talk in how video is currently being used in education view Salman Khan at TEDTALKS. Common examples of uses of multimedia (as researched by JISC Digital) include:

  • demonstrations of contextual images;
  • images with clickable parts (an image map) that link to further information e.g. Google maps;
  • video recordings of teaching sessions; to produce media-enhanced feedback;
  • recordings of special events such as guest lecturers.

External research on Multimedia

A useful framework to support educators in terms of how to use digital resources (artefacts) has been inspired by a JISC project. The DiAL-e Framework supports the pedagogically effective use of a range of digital content, focusing on what the learner does with an artefact rather than giving priority to its subject or discipline content.

So what’s the latest at City?

Demand for video is increasing, in particular for assessment in the form of coursework submission and reflective portfolios and as well as enabling staff and students to make their own video content.

For a look at some of the case studies around using multimedia you may be interested in the online webinars (run by the Video Special Interest Group). A recent webinar contained a diverse use of multimedia to suit the programmes in three schools. These were:

  • Sophie Paluch (The City Law School) has created mock courtroom scenarios for retraining judges across the UK. These videos enable the practice of representing someone in court as an advocate on the programme.
  • Natasa Perovic (School of Health) has created resources on blood pressure stethoscope sounds as the programme wanted a resource that made it easier for students to recognise the different sounds. The videos were for students who weren’t experienced in measuring blood pressure.
  • Luis Balseca (CASS) is running a pilot on video assessment for students which are being submitted through Moodle for one of the MBA programmes.

The session has been recorded and will be submitted in a vignette in due course.

Schools and their Requirements

All schools recently took part in a requirements gathering exercise in summer 2012. Four themes emerged that describe the direction that City University London expects in the tools or features used most frequently.

Features in relation to the four themes:

1. Help staff and students easily make and share multimedia recordings.

  • An easy to use online workflow with compression and creation of assets that will be compatible on all devices and platforms.
  •  A web cam and a screen capture feature, which is automatically saved to the library.

2. Enable sharing of audio & video material created at the University.

  • A ‘you tube’ like browse-able public and private and administration interface
  •  A library that can be searched from within Moodle

3. Provide a safe and controlled place to store and publish audio & video, so access can be restricted to suit different needs, e.g. confidential subject matter, assessment pieces, student presentations, copyrighted materials and television recordings.

  •     Secure Moodle assignment integration
  •     Very large files can be submitted and handle in batches
  •     Private reflective portfolios for students

4. Take learning, teaching and assessment using audio & video further i.e. to a global, mobile generation and enhance the power of social media tools.

  •     Users can record and upload via mobile devices
  •     Basic editing can be online
  •     Allows users to build playlists and make favourites

With Moodle 2 due to be released to students in September 2013, the Multimedia requirements group are looking at ways in which multimedia can be integrated effectively with Moodle at course and assessment level. Do stay tuned for the next update, and in the meantime if you’d like to be find out about how to use multimedia to suit your programmes, please do contact your educational technology team.



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

and here is the SEDA conference website where further information can be gained

The ISSOTL Conference 2012

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

I attended the ISSOTL conference in Canada at the end of October. This conference is focused on the scholarship of learning and teaching and was well attended with 550 people. There were some really good papers on issues such as teaching award schemes and students projects as well scholarship for learning and teaching and how this might change in the future.

I have posted comments about the papers I went to on my conference Blog so do follow this link if you want to know more

Categories: Reviews, Uncategorized

Personal Response Systems: Review of the Turning Technologies User Conference 2012, Aarhus University, Denmark

August 17, 2012 4 comments

Two months ago I attended the Turning Technologies User Conference 2012 at Aarhus University, Denmark, the first of its kind in Continental Europe (following the success of last year’s UK conference, reviewed here). Turning Technologies manufactures the electronic Personal Response Systems (PRS) or ‘classroom clickers’ that we use at City University London to poll students’ responses to specific questions posed during lectures, so I was keen to learn more about how other users internationally deploy this technology in their teaching.

A brief outline of each of the sessions is given below. The conference agenda, including abstracts for each of the presentations, is available here and the full conference programme (which was combined with Aarhus University’s ‘Frontiers in Science Teaching’ conference to create a two-day event) may be downloaded here.

Keynote – ‘Turning Lectures into Learning’ (Eric Mazur, Harvard University)

Following a welcome from Michael Broderik, CEO of Turning Technologies, the day opened with a keynote presentation by Professor Eric Mazur, whose ground-breaking teaching method of ‘peer instruction’ has brought him international recognition. He discussed how he developed peer instruction during the early 1990s as a response to the problem of the transmissive nature of traditional lectures, making lectures more interactive by placing students at the centre of their learning and thereby fostering a deeper level of understanding. In brief, the process is that a key conceptual question is posed; without conferring, the students vote for the answer they believe to be correct; they are then invited to discuss their answer amongst themselves in small groups; finally, the poll is taken again to see if more students have been persuaded towards the correct answer by their peers’ explanations. Professor Mazur illustrated his method with several worked examples, including, towards the end of his presentation, one from his teaching in ethics to demonstrate that peer instruction was not applicable exclusively within pedagogical contexts in which there is a definitive answer.

‘Writing good great Exceptional Clicker Questions’ (Siara Isaac, EPFL, Lausanne)

‘Museum Studies Using TurningPoint’ (Mikel Asensio, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Elena Pol, Interpretart)

Then followed the first of three parallel breakout sessions. In an interactive presentation, Siara Isaac invited the audience to write and revise PRS questions to turn them progressively from good, to great, to exceptional questions that nurtured deep-level understanding. Her discussion was informed by common mistakes in the authorship of multiple choice questions, but she also argued that to write exceptional (rather than merely good or great) PRS questions, a more creative approach may be necessary. Meanwhile, in the room next door, Professor Mikel Asensio and Dr Elena Pol discussed their use of personal response systems within museum studies. They noted that the information traditionally provided in museums was often quite weighty (for example, large amounts of printed text mounted on walls) and that this is not particularly engaging or interactive for visitors. As a solution, their institution has taken to using personal response systems to stimulate their guests’ interest in their collections as well as to gather important demographic information about them.

Interaction in Lectures with Mobile Devices (Will Moindrot, University of Manchester)

Using Electronic Voting Systems in the Arts and Humanities (Christopher Wiley, City University London)

After lunch, Will Moindrot discussed the logistical challenges presented by the use of personal response systems in lectures involving large numbers of students (it was particularly interesting to have considered this perspective given that personal response systems are often cited as being a means of dealing effectively with large-group teaching). He reported back on the students’ experiences of the solution implemented at the University of Manchester, namely the use of ResponseWare technology (a good explanation for which is to be found here) to enable students to vote using their own mobile devices without the need to be supplied with a bespoke handset. The concurrent session was my own presentation on using personal response systems in the arts and humanities. I (Dr Christopher Wiley) argued for the potential of PRS to enhance teaching in areas other than the traditional sciences, for instance, by soliciting audience opinion on a contentious point (with the aim of nurturing debate and generating arguments for and against prior to a repoll), or asking ‘subjective’ questions that stimulate discussion among students in that there may be more than one valid or correct answer. My presentation was illustrated by examples drawn from my teaching as a music lecturer who has used PRS for the past four years, as well as feedback received from my students.

‘Diagnostic Processes In General Practice’ (Lars Bjerrum, Copenhagen University)

‘Improving Practice and Addressing Practicalities: Embedding Audience Response Systems at the University of Kent’ (Daniel Clark, University of Kent)

In the final breakout session of the day, Professor Lars Bjerrum explained how personal response systems may be used to illustrate different approaches to the diagnostic process in general practice (as distinct from the diagnostic process within the context of a hospital). Such approaches include pattern recognition and deductive reasoning, and his presentation referred specifically to patients in primary care. Next door, Daniel Clark discussed e-learning strategy at the University of Kent in relation to the use of personal response system technology, which was piloted there five years ago. He spoke about positive feedback received from staff about the pedagogical value of PRS, current practices at the university (for instance, using PRS to facilitate revision sessions), the challenges posed by the embedment of this new technology in teaching and the solutions that were implemented, and the means by which PRS is promoted to staff on a continuing basis through training sessions (see here for further information). His presentation yielded an insight into the strategy of a single higher education institution as well as offering helpful guidance to others seeking to implement similar initiatives within their own contexts.

‘Turning to Your Neighbour’ (Julie Schnell, Harvard University)

The day concluded with a follow-up session exploring peer instruction, led by Dr Julie Schnell, who amplified the specific concept of ‘turning to your neighbour’ which is at the heart of the method. Through worked examples, she discussed the benefits and drawbacks of two fundamental questions relating to its implementation: whether or not to take an initial vote before inviting the students to discuss a given question with their neighbour; and at what stage in the peer instruction process to display the poll results to the audience. Professor Mazur’s opening keynote had already given us experience of some of these different approaches, for instance, revealing the results of the initial poll to us immediately for one question but withholding them for another.

The conference also benefitted from a number of poster presentations, including ‘Adding Value To Your Handsets – Making Video Interactive’ (Sue Palmer, Empowering Confidence) and ‘Clicking Your Way to Research Data’ (Sue McMillen, Buffalo State College). All in all, it was a highly informative event and a valuable opportunity to network with people implementing personal response systems in a variety of technology-enabled teaching settings, and to share thoughts, practices, and solutions.

Turning Technologies User Conference 2012, Aarhus University, Denmark

Social Media for Training Review

April 26, 2012 Leave a comment

I attended the UCISA Social Media for Training Conference and here are my take-away points.

 Ideas for online tools to develop more effective meetings

At the LDC, we’ve been thinking of more effective ways of managing meetings and I got some ideas from Joe Nicholls who presented on a staff development workshop which look at how online tools could be used to make meetings more effective. The full presentation is available from:

Below are some suggestions of online tools

Follow me on Twitter

Follow Me
Slava Baranskyi (2009)
(CC BY-NC 2.0)

Use twitter to develop collaborative lecture notes

Helen Keegan explained how she encourages students to live tweet a lecture and then uses storify to present the collaborative lecture notes. If you are interested in the idea have a look at the timely post from from the Guardian on the pros and cons of tweeting your lecture

Autotweet your PowerPoint

Set up your PowerPoint to autotweet as you progress through your slides or embed a twitter feedback slide into your PowerPoint.

Direct students to a specified start point in a YouTube video

You can direct students to a particular extract of a YouTube video by adding #t=ms to the end of the URL see the example below.

Crowd source your reading list

Encourage your students to find and review YouTube videos related to the course and share with the class via a social bookmarking group or collaborative blog.

Create screencasts of top 10 FAQs

Are you receiving a lot of the same queries from students? You could create a number of screencasts to address the top 10 frequently asked questions. We use Jing which you can download to your computer to capture screencasts. It is free and easy to use.

I found out who Rufi Franzen is

Rufi Franzen was part of an Alternative Reality Game (ARG) developed by Helen Keegan at University of Salford to teach an Advanced Multimedia module. The ARG played out on multiple platforms and in a face to face environment for the duration of the module. For more on how the ARG was developed you can Helen’s blog post.

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