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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.

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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.

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!

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): How Staff are Responding to the Mobile Technologies Their Students Bring With Them to Class

December 23, 2012 2 comments

The end of the year yields an opportune time to reflect upon various teaching innovations that have been discussed, written about, and presented earlier in the year, but which have not yet been included on the Educational Vignettes website. In this, the first of a series of end-of-year posts, I offer some thumbnail sketches of initiatives implemented in my teaching during 2012 to embrace mobile technologies with which students have been engaging to support their in-class learning – but with which, crucially, I was myself comparatively unfamiliar.

It can certainly be offputting to a tutor for the students’ attentions to be apparently divided between the lecture and their mobile devices; but this year I have seen evidence that, far from being a distraction, even the unsolicited use of mobile technologies by students can actually lead to their being more engaged in class. For example, in one lecture, when discussing crossover between classical musicians and popular music, I alluded to a Los Angeles-based string collective, the Vitamin String Quartet, who have released a fascinating series of albums of arrangements of popular music. Moments later, the whole class heard the unmistakeable sounds of a string quartet emanating from one corner of the room – one of the students had looked up the group’s website on her laptop, but had forgotten to ensure that she had turned off the sound…

Another such instance seems rather appropriate to this time of year : I was chatting to a student after a lecture who rather impressed me by dropping into conversation that Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was the only track ever to have reached the UK singles Christmas No. 1 spot twice, in 1975 and 1991. When I asked him how he knew this, he reminded me that during the lecture, I had mentioned that the Spice Girls were the only act to have attained three consecutive Christmas No.1s (1996-98). His interest had been sufficiently piqued by this piece of information that he had used his mobile device to call up a list of UK Christmas No.1s, and noticed the double appearance of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ there.

Versions of the two case studies below were previously presented at the School of Arts and Social Sciences Teaching and Learning Fête on 20 March 2012, and I am indebted to several colleagues at the Learning Development Centre without whose input and advice many of my endeavours this year simply would not have been possible.

Impromptu lecture-capture

Punk rock lectureIn a lecture on punk rock earlier in the year, a few students and I re-enacted the infamous interview between the Sex Pistols and Bill Grundy broadcast live on primetime Thames Television back in 1976. Reconstructions based on archived footage are available, but we decided that it would be more fun and interactive for the students to come to the front and recreate the experience for themselves. Given the relatively large number of people involved in the task, one student remarked that at this rate there would be nobody left in the class – to which I responded that this was very much in keeping with the belief-system at the centre of punk rock: the idea that anybody can get up on stage and be a performer.

Perhaps most interesting was one student who declared that she would be playing a role I had not even considered – that of the cameraman. She filmed our entire reconstruction using her mobile device (from which the screenshot, above right, is taken), thereby taking the notion of student ownership of their teaching and learning to a whole new level. (More recently, another student has written to me that his participation in the role-play was one of the most enjoyable parts of his educational experience – which is particularly revealing in that although he was indeed a part of the scene, and appears in the screenshot above, he actually had no lines to say!) The footage is now being uploaded to Moodle as a helpful reminder of the endeavour, and of the wider points it raised about punk’s do-it-yourself aesthetic.

Video podcasting of lecture summaries

Earlier in the year I was loaned an iPad by the School, and set the intriguing challenge of finding innovative ways to incorporate it within my teaching. Personal research soon led me to the Wired Educator blog in which a compelling case is made, albeit in a different context, for using the iPad for podcasting (see here). I have been audio podcasting since 2009 but switched to video (not a medium with which I am particularly comfortable) this year. My rationale for the change was that, while the pedagogical function of podcasting may be largely fulfilled by audio-only resources, images are more engaging for the students, encouraging a greater level of concentration and enabling them to see and interpret the speaker’s gestures and body language. I was also mindful of recent experiences within the institution with lecture-capture, which I have been increasingly using as the year has progressed, and of wider innovations in education such as the implementation of flipped classes.

My mode of operation was to record a podcast of 8-10 minutes in advance of each lecture, providing a summary of the key material and concepts of the associated class as well as discussing the set reading, and to release the recording via Moodle. Each podcast was intended to give the students some grounding in the content of the lecture (as well as to act as a ‘trailer’) and to provide some context on the preparatory reading, but they had an unexpected secondary function as a resource for the end-of-module examination. In the module evaluation, completed one week before the examination took place, one student wrote that “The weekly podcasts which were made were very helpful for revision” while another commented on the “Helpful podcasts on Moodle for revision purposes”.

As noted, many students already owned mobile devices upon which the podcasts could be played, downloaded, and re-watched at their convenience. For the others, I came to class every week with the podcasts pre-loaded onto my iPad (see screenshot, below) and students who did not have the opportunity to watch them in advance, or appreciated a second viewing to refresh their memories, were able to borrow my iPad for this purpose before the lecture or during the break.

Podcasts - screen capture

Top tips on making your lectures count!

January 18, 2012 3 comments

With a sea of distant heads in front of you bowed over their notes it can be very difficult to tell whether your lectures are working well or not. Students will not answer questions so you cannot tell if they understand. The normal clues are missing and the normal informal methods of finding out do not work because you will meet only a very small proportion of the students informally. It is common in very large lectures for lecturers to feel quite out of touch with their audience. You need to adopt deliberate strategies if you want to find out how you are doing.

1. Show of hands

While students may not be willing to speak up in a large lecture, they are often willing to join in a show of hands. If you ask “Who doesn’t understand that point?” you are unlikely to get much of a response. However, you can ask straightforward questions which give students some control over what happens next in the lecture; for example:

“How many of you would like another example of this method? Can I have a show of hands please?”

“Can I speed up in order to get through my remaining material? Please put your hand up if you want me to speed up.”

“Who would like a two-minute break?”

“Would you like to try tackling one of these cases yourselves? Can I see how many would like to try that?”

2. Three most important things

Listing the “three most important things” at the end of your lecture can be used as a means of summarising the lecture at its close in order to highlight its most important features. This same device can be used to check on student learning. You could say:

“I’d like to check whether I’ve got my main points across. I’d like you all to write down the three most important things about this lecture: those three things that, if you forgot everything else, would capture the essence of the lecture for you. You have two minutes”.

While students are doing this you write down what you think are the three most important things on an overhead projector transparency. When the two minutes are up you display your transparency and briefly explain your three points and why they are the most important. You then ask for a show of hands.

“Who, honestly, has written down all three of these points? Who has written down two? Who one? Who none? What other points did people consider important?”

If this seems too threatening to students you can do any of the following:

  • emphasise that what is on trial is your own competence as a teacher rather than their competence as learners;
  • ask for their points before revealing your own;
  • collect up students’ written statements to read in private;
  • emphasise the scope that exists for alternative perspectives, different conclusions, etc.

This exercise can be very salutary.

3. Instant questionnaire

Instant questionnaires are administered during lecture sessions or when the whole class is present. They require none of your paper and no advance preparation. All you have to do is display the following rating scale on an overhead projector:

A = Always true for me

B = Often true for me

C = Sometimes true for me

D = Seldom true for me

E = Never true for me

You then read out a series of perhaps six statements, which are your best guesses about what is going on in your lectures; for example:

1 I understand the lecture content.

2 I have encountered this material before.

3 My lecture notes are incomplete and probably inaccurate.

4 The pace is a bit slow.

5 I have questions which I need answers to.

6 Paying attention all through a lecture is a real struggle.

Students take a piece of their own paper and write down the numbers of the six statements. Against each they simply write down the letter which indicates whether they agree, like this:

1 B

2 B

3 C

4 A

5 D

6 B

You then simply ask students to leave their pieces of paper at the door as they leave and collate the data to see if your hunches are borne out. With very large classes you would not need to ask all students. A sample consisting of the front and back rows, and two rows in the middle, would be sufficient.

Instant questionnaire items can be thought up as a lecture is going on and jotted down for use in the last few minutes, using the following rating scale:
A = Strongly agree

B = Agree

C = Don’t know or unsure

D = Disagree

E = Strongly disagree

For example:

1 This lecture contained too much information.

2 In a room as overcrowded as this we need a break half way through.

3 I’d like to spend more time on…. in the next lecture.

4 I could use all four techniques introduced today.

5 I could explain Biggs’ theory to a friend.

6 I would like more examples of….

It is such a quick and inexpensive device that it is possible to use it regularly to check up, and to see whether steps you have taken in response to previous instant questionnaire feedback have had the desired effect.

4. The minute paper

Just before the end of the class, ask students to write a response to these questions. Please answer each question in 1 or 2 sentences:

(1) What was the most useful or meaningful thing you learned during this session?

(2) What question(s) remain uppermost in your mind as we end this session?

5. The “Muddiest” point

At the end of a lecture, ask each student to write down on a scrap of paper what, for them, was the “muddiest” point in this session – in other words, what was least clear to them. Collect these in. Look through them. Start the next session with the group by going over what were the most frequent muddiest points – ‘I am just going to go over the two/three areas that you had most trouble with last time’.

This technique was developed by Dr. Frederick Mosteller, a professor of statistics at Harvard University. For a detailed account of its development and use, see his article, The “Muddiest Point in the Lecture” as a Feedback Device in On Teaching and Learning: The Journal of the Harvard-Danforth Centre, Volume 3, April 1989, pages 10-21

“A Guide to Practice: Evaluating your Teaching Innovation”, by Ivan Moore.

Ivan was previously Director of the Centre for Learner Autonomy (one of the SHU CETLs) and is a strong and articulate advocate of experiential learning. He is now HE Curriculum Advisor for the Royal Academy of Engineering, and has published the document above as part of the National HE STEM programme.

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