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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!

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.

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…

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.

Twitter in the University Classroom: Live-Tweeting During Lectures

January 3, 2013 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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