Dr Rob Weale (CELT) has written an extended blog post titled ‘Universal Design for Learning (UDL) – with Technology’ which explores the interface between digital technology and UDL, and presents a mechanism which aims to broker an initial engagement between educators and the use of digital technologies specifically for UDL.
I had the pleasure of attending JISC’s ‘Investigating students’ expectations of the digital environment’ in Leicester with a focus on ‘the digital expectations and experiences of learners in the skills sector’ (14/04/2016). The scope of the study covers work-based learning (including apprenticeships), adult and community learning and offender learning.’ There was mixed group of attendance with some of us from HE. This event gave us an insight into the issues and opportunities affecting learners in the skills sector in respect of the ‘digital environment’; such learners can easily become learners (students) of HE too. In brief research in this area by JISC involved gathering data and having focus groups using ‘experience cards’ which can be used to ‘support conversations about students digital experience’. These cards are great at starting off conversations which can often be tricky at first and hopefully allows students to think about various areas around technology and related services that impact their experience during their course of study. These cards are multi-purpose and can be tweaked to suit the learning context, they can be easily used as a planning or an evaluation tool. By getting the learners ‘doing’ something hopefully allows for a more rounded response and consider the issues at hand.
Understanding the learner experience and expectations of the digital environment is important to channel support and guidance for our diverse cohort of students and inform us about the technology we have invested to use – therefore having an added opportunity for the ‘student voice’ funnel is just as important as in appreciating the lecturer’s learning and teaching objectives for the course who is having to balance how technology can facilitate and support the curriculum. It’s good to know that we incorporate this in the project work that we do.
Technology can facilitate in so many HE academic practices as we know -assessment, teaching content, communications, research and collaboration, such technology and service related technology now is very much extended into the modern workplace and digital literacy is regarded as a key skill for graduate/post graduate employability. We recognise that teaching staff value sharing effective practices in the usage of technology e.g. PGCertHE for their professional development and starting from their academic teaching practices is essential to see the wider uses of applied technology. We know what purpose technology can serve in a course of study and that the responsibility lies in how the lecturer chooses to use it. If we can sift through the essential information and digital skills that students should possess and for this to be more widely available and accessible, this and building digital experiences through the curriculum – we can hopefully ensure that we are equipping our students with the necessary skills set to engage in the wider digital environment.
Our current student ‘digital’ support can be steered collectively to reach out to all our students informed by both student and staff experiences as notably found when I completed the ‘Teaching Systems Review’ project, students valued the technologies we have invested in and have aired where some improvements can be made – by listening and acting we can make a difference and steps are being made towards this.
JISC highlighted a ‘Benchmarking tool – the student digital experience – which could be used to evaluate current practices in this area to plan any work that may be needed, it would be good to evaluate!
The HEA Arts & Humanities conference took place last month in sunny Brighton: there were quite a few interesting ELT-related sessions at the conference which are outlined below plus links to further information.
Jonathan Worth, Newcastle University Open Lab: Synthesising approaches to openness
Excellent keynote by Jonathan Worth from Newcastle University Open Lab: he talked about not just ‘Teaching with‘ the digital, but ‘teaching of the digital.’ Jonathan discussed his #Phonar global photography classes, Phonar Nation, an international initiative enabling young people to take part in their own representation as well as much, much more: hugely inspiring and thought-provoking. You can read more about his work on using the affordances of social media in teaching here.
Christopher Wiley, University of Surrey: How to use electronic voting systems creatively in arts & humanities teaching
Using electronic voting systems in the context of Dance, Drama and Music to enhance critical engagement. 1.2 abstract here – his presentation isn’t available but you can read more about Christopher’s work, including his role as a Turning Technologies Distinguished Educator here.
Christopher Hall, Sheffield Hallam University: Infographics as module guides (Poster Presentation)
Using infographics to capture an entire module guide on one page – used as a front page in Blackboard and as hard copy. You can read the poster presentation abstract here.
Sarah Crowson & Simon Denison, Hereford College of Arts: How to build a less formal online learning space
Students felt more ownership of the informal online learning space created in WordPress, and engaged more with this space compared to the the official VLE. 12.7 abstract here and you can read in more detail about Sarah and Simon’s action research project here.
Dr Neil Brown mainly teaches Energy Analysis Techniques, Energy Efficiency, and Mechanical and Electronic Engineering Labs, in the School of Engineering and Sustainable development at DMU.
Traditionally, all feedback in the Energy and Sustainable Development (ESD) Subject Group has been text based due to the use of a specific database for communicating feedback to students. The database was partly developed for the benefit of the Distance Learners in ESD who make up the majority of the cohort.
Neil’s biggest single marking load is Energy Analysis Techniques, this is a core module to three MSc courses and the assessment comprises of two written components. To provide as much meaningful feedback to students as is possible and to be able to mark efficiently and away from the university whilst offline; he has identified an innovative and efficient way to provide feedback that his students have also embraced.
The approach adopted bypasses the computer keyboard by using speech to text software to simply dictate to the computer. Using this approach it’s possible to generate feedback much more quickly, with less fatigue, and allowing concentration on the subject in hand. He also uses this technique to generate course notes for Distance Learners and he has found that dictation can be around 5-6x faster than typing.
For marking, the overall process is not sped up massively, but the extra detail possible in feedback means that there are almost zero queries on marks from students, which in itself offers a massive time saving. One recent comment was that a student was ‘blown away’ by the amount of feedback.
For Energy Analysis Techniques, comments on each report are grouped as; general comments, notable good features, and areas for improvement. Comments could also be placed in the submitted PDF of each assignment. This is done in conjunction with grid marking, where a spreadsheet is used to generate marks based on weighted criteria. It’s not vital to mark in this way, but grouping comments this way, plus grid marking makes things easier still.
Neil uses Dragon Naturally Speaking 10, which now costs around £30. The basic microphone which comes boxed with the software works reasonably well, but he has found that suppliers of dictation software to GPs etc. offer microphones with much better results – expect to spend around £30-50.
Usually, the dictation is carried out using a basic Dell laptop from 2010, running Windows 7. The Dragon Naturally Speaking CD installs itself in Windows and the software can be configured to run on Linux with some tweaking, and Mac OS. He has also trialled other speech to text solutions such as Google speech recognition and IBM ViaVoice but the Google product proved less reliable on accuracy. The IBM product worked well but it did require significantly more training.
To dictate, a microphone is plugged into the laptop and the Dragon software is started along with the application (Word, Excel, Open/Libre office, Notepad). Training the software to recognise a specific voice takes around 30 minutes and involves reading some set passages before dictating for real. This ‘training’ can be one-off, although the software does become more accurate with more use by the same person/voice.
A bespoke database had been used in the past, long before Blackboard was used for providing feedback, but now the subject group uses DMU’s Blackboard Learn VLE installation. Blackboard Learn offers the chance to provide audio feedback too, circumventing text altogether. Neil and the ELT Project Officer discussed this and Neil tested this multimedia based audio feedback approach, although after a trial the students stated a preference for text as text is easier to skim read and pick out the salient points. He also felt that the audio files were rather lengthy, handling them became fiddly for a large cohort, so has now reverted to dictation.
This approach to providing rich text based electronic feedback not only benefits students but colleagues who may have a disability could also adopt this technique to speak their feedback. The software can also control the computer, offering improved functionality for anyone who is differently able.
Neil’s top tips for those who may wish to replicate this practice would be:
- Use a good quality microphone – background noise can reduce the accuracy of the software
- Set the software to be as accurate as possible and speak clearly
- Skim read the output text before releasing to the student as some specialist words or phrases can be misinterpreted
- Understand your students – Energy Analysis Techniques students prefer text based feedback but in other subjects it may be more appropriate to provide audio, text, or feedback in other media.
Ian Pettit, Neil Brown
Blackboard has been upgraded to service pack 14 on the 10th July 2014 (previous version service pack 8) which has brought some new features and improvements to existing ones. See here for more details.
Why do we upgrade?
There are many reasons why we have to upgrade, software, browsers, hardware, data security and other web technologies are constantly having updates we need to ensure that our systems such as Blackboard operate efficiently. We also need to keep up with the latest release as older releases will no longer be supported which could cause us issues if we had a problem.
The CELT team were involved in evaluating and testing features in subsequent service packs from 8 to our current version 14. There are some features that we have disabled after evaluation based on data security and workflow process and we will be keeping a close eye on how these are further developed so staff and students get the best teaching and learning experience using Blackboard. Were running some central staff Blackboard overview sessions as well as faculty sessions, more details in the link above. Hope to see you there!
Chris Knifton, Richard Postance and Helen Rooney from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at DMU have been capturing student role-play sessions on video for use as formative reflective learning materials.
A case study detailing this approach is available on the CELT Hub at:
Just a quick post about a neat trick I discovered today that could help improve access to files for students and staff.
A colleague was looking for a more intuitive way to point fellow staff members to a Blackboard course's file repository as the link (in Control Panel) is not always obvious.
Firstly we right-clicked the link in the browser and copied the link location to the clipboard.
We then created a new item in a content area, inserted a picture and submitted.
Once submitted, the item was edited and with the picture selected the hyperlink button was clicked and the URL for the course file repository pasted into the link URL.
The changes were submitted and we now have a big picture/button within a content area that takes staff and students (depending on permissions) to the course files or a specific directory. This is much more obvious for staff members who may be using a Blackboard course or Organisation for sharing files.
We also found that this approach can be used when creating an Announcement too. Using the divider on the Announcement page we can permanently stick a link to the student files to the top of the default course entry page.
Using this approach could help in a scenario where students need the content of a directory and the instructor can save time by using this technique as an alternative to attaching individual files to an item or using the folder content type as the folder content type offers limited ability to wrap links within contextual and support information.
JISC Legal has produced an online training course in copyright for academics and those supporting academic staff on legally using other people's materials in teaching and learning. It is a standalone module which takes an hour to complete, and consists of some videos, audio, animation and text pages.
For more information on copyright for teaching and learning at DMU see:
[note: the content of this post has been borrowed from http://libguides.library.dmu.ac.uk/copyright]
We will be having a Blackboard upgrade this summer 2014. Here is a sneak preview of what to expect!
More information about the upgrade will appear soon.
Global Navigation Menu and My Blackboard
New Content Editor
Inline Grading Assignment
Inline Grading for Blackboard, Discussion, Blogs and Wikis
Groups Management – Enhancement
Mobile Browser Support for Mashups
Course Reports – Single Course User Participation Report
Using social media tools to affirm study skills
Zoë Allman is the Programme Leader, Media Production BSc, Faculty of Technology and a DMU Teacher Fellow.
Up until the 2013/14 academic year, one of the modules that Zoë taught was the Social Media and Technology module; the learning outcomes of which are focused on students developing their study skills such as how write group essays, revision techniques and other study skills. The module also focuses on how to write for social media platforms and the importance of keeping an up to date online profile.
Traditionally, when engaging with study skills tutorials, students would work in isolation during lab sessions and in quite a didactic manner, feedback would be given on the pieces of written work that the students had produced. It was obvious to module leader Andrew Clay, supported by module tutor Zoë, that this approach to teaching study skills as part of Social Media and Technology was not pedagogically appropriate as students were seen to have forgotten what they had learnt through the feedback and therefore they set about to innovate the teaching and assessment techniques used in this part of the module.
Andrew and Zoë decided to marry the subject of the module ‘social media’ with the study skills learning outcomes. This made sense as this created a situation where the students would be using the tools that the module is focused on to develop and construct their knowledge relating to study skills.
Students were already using Facebook and Twitter in other modules and in their personal lives so in consultation with the students the module team agreed that Facebook and Twitter would be used as a platform for students to engage with each other and work collaboratively on their study skills – this approach also lent itself to the curriculum as one of the summative assessment tasks is to produce a group essay.
Initially, Andrew and Zoë adapted the traditional approach by building in the use of social media. As a module team they encouraged students to share their attempts at writing in an academic style using a Facebook group. The students found that being able to see and formatively critique each other’s attempts helped them to understand the principles behind academic writing and to learn from each other’s feedback.
This approach helped students to retain what they had learnt about study skills but the breakthrough came when one group of students decided to take their learning into their own hands.
An assignment was set whereby small groups were tasked to produce a piece (written or otherwise) to demonstrate that a specific study skill had been mastered. All groups, with the exception of one, submitted either a written document or a short video in a piece to camera style.
However, Zoë was pleasantly surprised when she reviewed one group’s submission to find that they had taken a popular song, parodied the video, re-written the lyrics and presented a produced ‘pop-video’ style piece that demonstrated fully that they had learnt how to write a group assignment.
The following week, as part of the co-teaching activity, Zoë showcased this submission to the other groups which prompted one group to go directly to the media production studio and create a parody of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies for the following week.
Now, rich multimedia content has become the normal for students working in groups or individually on the study skills assignments as part of Social Media and Media technology. Submissions are now shared and critiqued using the DMU Commons rather than Facebook but the principles are the same and students also use the DMU Commons to blog using the FutureMedia site as championed by Rob Watson, Principal Lecturer.
Andrew and Zoë also encourage the students to Tweet about their learning experience. With guidance from Dr Andrew Clay, Principal Lecturer, Critical Technical Practices, Zoë and the students have been making use of the storification tools in Twitter to build up a chronological portfolio of reflective Tweets that others can see.
Students are also encouraged to stay up to date with social media trends when using these platforms to collaborate and produce pieces for assessment. For example, students embraced the ‘Harlem Shake’ trend and group’s submitted Harlem Shake style videos to demonstrate their understanding – this links to the social media focused learning outcomes of the module as it encourages students to not only use such tools for their own assessment pieces but through using these tools they are also learning how to use them in the context of their course too.
The students enjoy these approaches to teaching and formative assessment, and have taken control of their own learning by pro-actively extending their use of social media by parodying videos and talking about their experiences and the work they have produced in these spaces.
The students described here are all first year students and through these activities they are encouraged to begin to take control of their own learning through these innovative approaches to teaching study skills.