Aug 182016
 

Pamela Hardaker is a part-time lecturer teaching Mobile Robotics in the Faculty of Technology. Pamela began teaching at the beginning of the 2015/16 academic year; her background is that of a Distance Learning Masters student and one of her previous roles was with a national charity that works to change the lives of disabled people by helping them to use digital technology at work, at home or in education.

Given Pamela’s passion for widening participation through the use of technology and her first-hand experience of a fully online Masters course, she decided from the start that she would endeavour to make her third-year Undergraduate module as engaging and accessible as possible.

The Mobile Robotics module has been running for a number of years and Pamela noticed that there was a high instance of students with a Specific Learning Difference in the 2015/16 cohort. This spurred her on further to provide content and materials in as many different formats as possible; an approach that aligns with DMU’s Universal Design for Learning principles.

One of the approaches that Pamela took was to record her lectures for sharing with the students. Early on, Pamela would bring a laptop with webcam to class and rely on a student in the front row to point the camera at the screen and press record. This approach worked to an extent but there was an element of extra work to encode and upload the finished recording and the audio and visual quality was not particularly good due to the recording of a projected image and the audio recording equipment in use.

However, at a Programme Management Board meeting late in 2015 Pamela and the ELT Project Officer working with the Faculty of Technology were introduced; the shared passion for ELT soon became apparent.

In early 2016 as the Multimedia Enhancement project delivered the site-wide availability of Panopto at DMU; Pamela and the ELT Project officer soon arranged a meeting to look at how this technology might support Pamela’s already inclusive practice.

The first trial run with Panopto (instead of the laptop with webcam) was a success and even the students in the lecture theatre could see how much easier this approach is and were relieved to no longer be responsible for pressing record and stop on the recording technology whilst attending lectures.

Pamela continued to record all of her lectures on the Mobile Robotics module in 2016 and students have appreciated having these resources available.

With regard to attendance, classroom recordings were being provided from the start and therefore the move from a laptop with camera to Panopto enhanced the offering rather than providing anything new as such, it just meant that resources looked better for the students and Pamela no longer had to invest time into encoding recordings.

However, there was a drop-off in attendance witnessed but it is assumed that with the nature of the module this would have happened regardless of the lecture recording activities.

In the future, Pamela will be delivering and facilitating labs – potentially alongside lecturing and also managing studying for a PhD.

Through conversations with the ELT Project Officer, Pamela is keen to further explore the practice that the new DMU Replay service can enable and is keen to experiment with recording lab work for students to reflect upon and for assessment.

Pamela is also considering using the 2015/16 recordings as pre-sessional material to help new colleagues teaching on the module to take a different approach in classes to cater for the diverse learning styles that the module seems to attract.

Thank you to Ms Pamela Hardaker for enabling this blog post to be created and shared.

 

Ian Pettit

ELT Project Officer

Aug 122016
 

Dr Paul Cropper is the Programme Leader for MSc Energy and Sustainable Building Design in the School of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Faculty of Technology. Paul was an early adopter with regard to using the Multimedia Enhancement solution (Panopto) at DMU and he is an e-champion in the Faculty.

This blog post describes Paul’s early experiences of recording, some of the barriers that he had to overcome and Paul’s plans for the future.

Paul teaches two semester 2 Modules; Ventilation and Daylight Modelling, and Energy and Thermal Performance. Both Modules enrol attending and Distance Learning students with relatively small cohorts (approximately 6) attending and 15 plus Distance Learning students per Module.

In 2014/15 Paul experimented with the Multimedia Enhancement solution when delivering classes that focus on the demonstration of a proprietary piece of software. The software is complex in nature and Paul wanted to record the sessions in which the software is demonstrated to provide the Distance Learning students with an insight into these classroom sessions. With the ELT Project Officer, Paul explored the use of the recording software on the classroom computer to record the screen and he also introduced PowerPoint slides as a mechanism to automatically index the screen recording using the Events function. However, this was not successful as due to the classroom hardware set up it was not possible for Paul to project the computer screen with the complex software demonstration whilst viewing PowerPoint slides on the lectern monitor simultaneously.

Paul would have recorded further sessions in semester 2 2014/15 but he was unfortunately not always timetabled to teach in a space where the recording software was installed but following the project roll-out on January 4th 2016 Paul was able to use the Multimedia Enhancement software in any classroom and he seized this opportunity.

Subsequently, Paul has recorded every class on both Modules during the 2015/16 academic year. As described, Paul’s initial aspiration was to provide the Distance Learning students with a more engaging resource that represents the live classroom environment when demonstrating complex software and the Distance Learning students have provided nothing but positive feedback in this respect. However Paul’s small cohort of attending students have also fed back that they value having the recordings available and Paul has even gone so far as sharing recordings between the two Module cohorts in the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to make the same material available to different cohorts. This approach to recording for everyone and sharing content speaks to DMU’s Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles and ideas in that the resources that were initially created with Distance Learning students in mind benefit all students on the Modules; an aspiration of the DMU Replay service that is currently being implemented at DMU ahead of 2016/17.

Paul talked about UDL and DMU Replay specifically when talking about his use of multimedia in the curriculum as this is a high profile change for DMU and Paul wants to support UDL as well as the Distance Learning students and he sees the use of multimedia as one approach to help satisfy these strategic and pedagogic needs.

Although not linked to the use of recording technology, there were two sessions this year that no students attended. Paul did not make any recordings on these occasions but none of the students raised this as an issue which suggests that the students’ non-attendance on these occasions was due to other factors rather than reliance on a piece of recorded material. Furthermore, as the subject material for all lectures is also provided as formal written lessons (in PDF form) students were not significantly disadvantaged by two sessions not being recorded. This demonstrates another advantage of providing material in more than one form, a principal of UDL.

However, although Paul has not experienced a fall in attendance there is some concern that students may see the recording of classroom activity as an alternative to attending as the DMU Replay policy kicks in and Paul does, and will continue to, re-iterate the need to attend as well as make use of recordings in induction week. Paul is also planning to gather specific student feedback with regard to the use of recorded material and its impact during semester 2 2016/17.

Going back to Paul’s aspirations to record complex software and have Panopto automatically create Events within the resource; Paul tried to create some resources at the desk. However, as has been documented before, recording at the desk can feel very different to recording classes and Paul felt that the content he created in this way was not of a standard he would wish to publish and that is easily achievable when recording in a live teaching environment.

The feeling is that when recording at the desk the student expectation may be heightened by way of production value as they may assume that more time and effort has been put in to an at the desk recording than one that is recorded on the fly as classes are delivered. Paul feels that having more detailed notes or a script when recording at the desk may help and he will try this in 2016/17.

Also, thinking about 2016/17, Paul will continue to record his classes but he is planning make use of the Panopto Editor to manually add Events to provide a resource that is navigable in the student view rather than trying to use PowerPoint where he would not usually to create Events automatically.

Outside of recording classroom sessions Paul has also used the Multimedia Enhancement solution in a variety of different ways to enhance his Modules:

  1. Paul recorded a visiting lecturer from Loughborough University to ensure that the Distance Learning students could engage with the lecture;
  2. At the desk, Paul has recorded a presentation based on a Research Project that he is involved in and this has been shared with colleagues in the UK (Loughborough University), the USA (University of California, Berkeley) and India (CEPT University); and
  3. At the request of the students, Paul has recorded materials to support his cohort to understand the requirements of assignments and with report writing, as the technical report that forms part of the assignment can be challenging and having a video resource available that outlines expectations without providing a full example (that could be plagiarised) supports the students in creating their assignments.

In summary, Paul’s early thoughts around recording specific taught sessions for Distance Learning students have grown into Paul being comfortable enough with the software to record all classes in 2015/16 along with supplementary materials and visiting lecturers (at the desk and in classrooms) that benefit all students within the cohorts with some resources being shared.

This is a great example of how a fundamental use of such technology to record classes, similar to that required by the DMU Replay policy, can organically grow into extended use of multimedia in the curriculum and for other purposes such as Paul’s involvement with and recording for the Research Group.

Paul’s top tips:

  • When recording at the desk, produce detailed notes or a script before recording as ‘teaching’ at the desk is harder than it may seem but not impossible with a bit of preparation.
  • Keep re-iterating the message that students need to attend and take advantage of the recordings being made available to help make the most of their learning opportunity at DMU.

Thank you to Dr Paul Cropper for enabling this blog post to be produced.

Ian Pettit
ELT Project Officer.

Apr 122016
 

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.

Infographics as Module Guides

Christopher Hall’s poster showing a module guide presented as an infographic

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.

Alexis Taylor, University of Northampton and Phil Perry, University of Coventry:#CovNorth
 
16.8 abstract here and you can see at #CovNorth the way that students preferred email to Twitter for professional communication.  My favourite quote of the conference came from this presentation: ‘Twitter is for old people’ according to these students at least.
 

More on the conference website: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/events-conferences/event/inspire-%E2%80%93-sharing-great-practice-arts-and-humanities-teaching-and-learning

Julia Reeve

Feb 092016
 

Mr Luke Attwood leads three modules (ranging levels 5 – 7) in the school of Computer Science and Informatics at DMU. The modules are; Object Oriented Software Design & Development, Object Oriented Programming, and E-Commerce Software.

Each component requires that students submit their software solutions in source code form and Luke uses the Assignment submission tool in DMU’s VLE (Blackboard) with an associated electronic rubric for marking and providing text based feedback.

None of the components are usually marked anonymously, although it is feasible to do this when circumstances require by hiding student identification data.

The rubrics are consistent in that they all involve a set of criteria against which there is a 5 tier scale that Luke has adopted to represent the levels of achievement (0 – 100) with a percentage and description attached; e.g. Significant room for improvement (40%).

Before rolling out the rubrics Luke tested them with colleagues second marking to ensure the rubrics would produce a consistent and accurate result. Luke constantly updates and tests the rubrics to further refine the wording of the criteria but over the last two years minimal changes have been required and the rubrics are performing well by way of consistency and the distribution of marks.

At first, colleagues were sceptical with regard to the rubrics providing enough variation of marks. Although each criteria only has a 5 tier scale (e.g. 0, 40, 60, 80, 100); as there are several different criteria Luke finds that the rubrics still return a granular spread of marks across the cohort. Luke did experiment with fewer criteria (and fewer levels of achievement) but this did result in bunching of marks and too many criteria (or levels of achievement) became unmanageable – Luke would advise a minimum of 3 criteria but 4 or more is better and is appropriate to the nature of the submissions on the modules he teaches. This, in combination with the 5 tier scale has consistently worked well.

When marking, Luke will enable the ‘Show Feedback’ view in Blackboard to enable personalised text feedback to be included alongside any pre-determined feedback that Luke may have pre-prepared as the rubric was produced. Not all of Luke’s rubrics include pre-filled feedback but if he finds that similar comments are being made on a frequent basis Luke will make a note of these for pasting into the relevant feedback section later. Having the Show Feedback view enabled also allows Luke to override the overall grade if necessary and he will always provide a text based comment with a brief explanation regarding any overridden grades.

Luke is confident that using rubrics to mark students work enables him to provide provisional grades and personalised text feedback in a timely manner. Whilst Luke’s students are yet to specifically provide feedback on his use of rubrics there has been no negative feedback from the students.

Luke finds that there are multiple benefits to using rubrics in this way. Rubrics provide the ability to easily mark and write comments in a single location that are then immediately available for students to view rather than having to upload a separate mark sheet, which for a lot of students in itself can be time consuming. The rubric grid also does all of the calculations automatically for Luke so he does not need to worry about this or even have the totals moderated. Furthermore, it provides an elegant way of placing comments directly next to where they are applicable.

Thank you to Luke Attwood for enabling this post to be created. If you wish to explore the use of rubrics in Blackboard further please contact your local ELT Project Officer.

Ian Pettit.

Jan 192016
 

Dr Simon Coupland, School of Computer Science and Informatics, Faculty of Technology started teaching a first year undergraduate C++ programming module in 2014/15. Another first for the module in 2014/15 was that Mathematics students were enrolled for the first time – some of whom may never have engaged with coding before.

The C++ module is an introduction to programming and this module underpins the complex threshold concepts that students are required to understand as they progress into areas such as Games Programming. Therefore it is critical that students are offered various ways to construct knowledge in line with their preferred learning style(s) on this module as it does form part of the foundation of multiple undergraduate programmes.

Historically, students on the C++ module were tasked with producing a piece of code each week as part of their lab sessions and the previous member of teaching staff would mark each piece of code individually between sessions.

However, knowing that the cohort could be quite varied this year, Simon sought to provide alternative methods of assessing the lab work that would involve the students collaborating and learning from each other.

Following conversations with the ELT Project Officer, Simon identified that a peer marking model for the student’s lab work would help the students to learn collaboratively, foster relationships in their first year and alleviate Simon’s marking workload as the module attracts a large (100+) student cohort.

Following a session that focused on the use of TurnItIn’s PeerMark solution, Simon set up the following scenario:

  • Each week the students will create and submit a piece of C++ code using a TurnItIn PeerMark link during the lab;
  • The following week the students will create a second piece of code and peer mark a colleague’s code; and
  • In the third week, further code is submitted and the previous week’s is peer marked but the peer marked submissions from week one are released in order for students to see each other’s comments on their work.

This is then a rolling plan with a new piece of code being generated each week for review and release over the three week cycle.

Following the first week’s lab session, all students created their C++ code and submitted it via the TurnItIn link in Blackboard. The following week, the majority of students’ seemed to engage with the peer marking aspect and offered feedback to a colleague via the TurnItIn PeerMark function.

However, after this initial flurry of interest, although all students’ continued to submit their weekly piece, very few students re-engaged with peer marking and this trend continued for approximately six weeks until Simon removed the peer marking element and reverted to the traditional model as despite encouragement the students’ were no longer peer marking each other’s work.

As this is the first year that Simon has taught the C++ first year module there is no benchmark for Simon regarding the demographic of the 2014/15 student cohort but Simon feels as though the following factors may have played a role in the students not continuing with the peer marking aspect of the module

  1. Confidence – this is a first year undergraduate module and Simon believes that although the initial novelty of marking each other’s work was appealing, the ongoing peer marking set up may have been daunting for the students who are both confident and not so confident with the subject.
    Simon did, in a later lab session, encourage the students to buddy up and talk to each other during informal peer to peer sessions away from the lab but students who tried to engage in this activity found that their contemporaries would let them down by not honouring appointments and this physical buddying/mentoring approach has also ceased now.
  2. The nature of the cohort – as recorded, this is the first year that Simon has taught the year one C++ module and Simon feels as though the 2014/15 cohort may not have transitioned into HE quite as well as may be required to understand and handle the value and responsibility of a peer marking approach to lab work. However, having not engaged with previous year’s cohorts in this way Simon has no benchmark to help identify whether this cohort is typical or atypical of a first year C++ cohort.
    Also, 2014/15 saw the first Mathematics student enrolments on the first year C++ module. Traditionally, only students who would have engaged with coding prior to coming to University and who are heading toward a career path that involves coding would be enrolled on this module but this year, students studying Mathematics were enrolled and they may not have had any experience of writing code prior to week one of the module. This widens the gap between those in the cohort who are already confident with coding and those who are not and it is surmised that with a less spikey profile of coding skills across the cohort, the assumed issues relating to confidence driving an unwillingness to engage in peer marking would be reduced.
  3. The technology – whilst the technology supported Simon’s approach on the whole Simon would have liked to have seen an automated approach to identifying who had engaged with the peer marking activity on a weekly basis. With this extra functionality, Simon would then have introduced a scenario whereby students who failed to peer mark in any given week would not be eligible to receive colleague’s feedback the following week or until they re-engaged with peer marking. This may have motivated more students to peer mark if their engagement with colleagues in the previous week could be linked to their work being peer marked the following week but this is an assumption and there is no functionality in TurnItIn to support this scenario.

The experiences documented here are valuable for anyone considering a peer marking approach – the key lessons learned can be summarised as:

  • Ensure that students are fully bought into and understand the value of the peer marking approach ahead of embarking on this journey;
  • Get to know the cohort of students and critically evaluate whether they are at a stage where they will not let each other down (virtually or physically);
  • Look for ways to motivate students to peer mark. For example, should the student marking be linked to their assessment this would motivate them to continue to peer mark their colleague’s work; and
  • Do not assume that all students will always want to engage in this type of peer assessment and collaboration.

Other colleagues in the Faculty of Technology are also trialling alternative peer marking models in 2014/15 and it will be interesting to see how successful or otherwise colleagues have been in engaging students in this type of activity and whether Simon’s experience is typical or not.

Click here to read about Dr Catherine Flick’s experiences of introducing a peer marking model to a second year Introduction to Research and Ethics module.

 

Ian Pettit

ELT Project Officer

Nov 232015
 

Dr James Russell, Principal Lecturer, Film Studies; currently teaches two modules at first year and third year undergraduate level.

James has approximately eighty students enrolled across the two modules and in the 2014/15 academic year James looked to innovate his assessment technique by engaging with one of the electronic assessment tools that DMU subscribes to.

Students studying in both years are required to submit a final essay of around 1500 words and traditionally James would print these and mark by hand. However, James felt that he had perfected his technique to the point where he could not mark any faster and he was also finding that students were not always forthcoming in picking their feedback up in hard copy.

Therefore James sought to identify a different approach to marking that might be more efficient and also make feedback more readily available to the students.

Given that the students submit their essay via the TurnItIn system, James concluded this would be a good place to start and explored the use of GradeMark for marking electronically whilst online.

James quickly identified that he would be able to create a subset of QuickMarks that are relevant to the subject and he marked the latest cohort’s submissions using a combination of QuickMarks and the free form text feedback function that is available in GradeMark.

During this initial year, James also insisted that his students hand in to provide a contingency position and conversations were had with the internal second marker and the external moderator who in turn have found the use of GradeMark to be quick and easy.

In conversation with James, it is clear that the trial use of GradeMark in 2014/15 has been a success. James is also the Subject Group Leader for Media, Film and Journalism and at a recent Programme Management Board meeting James was almost evangelistic in front of colleagues about electronic online marking – hence this blog post.

The benefits of marking online are linked to the students being able to pick their feedback up immediately once James releases this and James also feels that marking online is faster and more efficient than marking in a traditional paper based manner. GradeMark also works well with the second marker being able to see James’ comments on screen and the external moderator has been positive about the format of the downloaded submissions that are sent for moderation.

James will be continuing to mark in this way and next year he is planning to rely solely on the electronic approach. He is also encouraging colleagues to engage, where appropriate, with this scalable electronic marking technique.

Thank you to Dr James Russell for agreeing to have this practice documented and disseminated.

Ian Pettit
ELT Project Officer

Oct 152015
 

Dr Rob Weale (CELT) has been awarded Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT).

CMALT is a peer-based professional accreditation scheme developed by the Association for Learning Technology to enable people whose work involves learning technology to; demonstrate that they are taking a committed and serious approach to their professional development; and to have their experience and capabilities certified by peers.

The accreditation is awarded based on peer-review of a structured portfolio of work which includes detailed evidence of practice and reflection on this practice in four core areas: operational issues; learning, teaching and assessment; the wider context; and communication. Plus two open sections: a specialist option; and future plans.

Award holders are entitled to use the post-nominal letter – CMALT

Rob has made his CMALT Portfolio publicly available in an online format in the hope that it may act as a catalyst for others to pursue a similarly reflective approach towards their work with technology for teaching and learning; and that it may offer support and guidance to those who are actively pursuing or considering in pursuing a CMALT.

Rob Weale – CMALT Portfolio

 

Aug 212015
 

Dr Marie Bassford, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Technology, started to teach a new first year Physics Fundamentals module in 2014/15. Having taught only second and third year students for a number of years; Marie saw the opportunity to develop a new first year module as a vehicle to re-engage with the use of phase tests for assessment.

In the past, Marie would have made use of a paper based optical mark reading system as the platform for delivering phase tests but with her learning technologist background, Marie sought to identify a more automated approach that could be re-used year on year.

Marie delivers Physics Fundamentals with two colleagues and following an exploratory conversation with the ELT Project Officer, Marie and the team decided to move forward with the Blackboard Learn Test tool for administering phase tests via the Virtual Learning Environment.

Each of the module team members were tasked with producing questions for the phase test. These questions were linked to the learning outcomes and were all multiple choice type questions with one correct answer. The phase test itself was to be 25 questions in total but with the input of three colleagues a bank of 58 questions was produced.

The ELT Project Officer helped Marie to develop her skills and understanding of the Test tool and Marie ensured that the questions were authored in Blackboard Learn.

The over production of questions was purposeful as in conversation with the ELT Project Officer, Marie had decided to create a large pool of questions and have Blackboard Learn serve a random 25 questions to each student from the pool. There were a number of reasons for this approach:

  1. Having each student answer a randomly selected set of 25 questions helps to minimise copying in the test environment;
  2. Building a pool of questions enables Marie and the team to add to this pool each year; and
  3. The pool can be re-used year on year with minimal effort by including it in the annual Course Copy.

There was an amount of effort required to create the initial pool of 58 questions but the three colleagues teaching Physics Fundamentals spread this work across the module team and this pool will now roll over each year. Marie is confident that although there will inevitably be updates and amendments to the question pool; in the long run, the time that has been invested will be recouped.

Due to the multiple choice nature of the questions, Blackboard Learn marks each test upon completion and there are options for students to see their provisional grade instantly upon completion of the test along with any generic/automated feedback. When compared to the work required to print and scan optically mark read submissions the use of the Test tool minimises the effort required to deliver the test and grades once the initial pool is created and the test is deployed on the module shell.

The students who engaged with the phase test in December 2014 were generally positive about the experience. One student did question the use of randomised question sets but as the questions that each student received had all been carefully written to support one or more learning outcome this query was swiftly dealt with.

Conversely, one student actively told Marie that she thought it was “clever how the questions were randomised” and that she understood that it made it fairer to assess that way when taking the test together, side by side at PCs.

During the test, there was one issue in that a superscript character that had been used in one of the questions did not display correctly but this was quickly dealt with on the day and Marie has now re-formatted the question text to ensure that it displays fully to the students.

Marie’s next Physics Fundamentals phase test in is April 2015 and she will be using this question pool with the addition of further questions for the second phase test and Marie will continue to use the Test tool this year and in years to come as part of the Physics Fundamentals assessment  components.

Thank you to Dr Marie Bassford and the Physics Fundamentals module team for enabling the documentation of their use of online phase tests. If you wish to learn more about how to replicate this practice at DMU, please contact your local ELT Project Officer.

Ian Pettit and Marie Bassford.

Jul 072015
 

Andrew Reeves is a Lecturer working with the School of Energy and Sustainable Development. Andrew teaches a number of modules and this short blog post focuses on his practice when engaging with a small cohort of students on the People, Society and Climate Change MSc module.

Andrew’s current cohort comprises of two attending students and nine Distance Learning students. Two of the Distance Learning students who are currently enrolled are able to commit to being online at the same time as Andrew’s timetabled sessions.

The teaching approach that Andrew deploys is one that is grounded in small group discussions and activities to help students construct knowledge and learn from each other whilst Andrew facilitates in the classroom. Traditionally, materials would be made available online for the Distance Learning students to engage with but this year, Andrew has extended this approach by bringing his Distance Learning students into the classroom using Google Hangouts.

Each week, Andrew will start a Hangout and the Distance Learning students will join the Hangout and join in with the discussion based sessions. This contribution firstly helps the Distance Learning students to engage and feel part of the student community but their presence also enriches the discussion as by their nature the Distance Learning students bring different perspectives to the discussion as they are generally mature students who have industry experience to bring to the table.

One of Andrew’s sessions involves a card sorting activity. Traditionally, the attending students would be given pieces of paper and they would work together to achieve the outcome. Using the Hangout in conjunction with Google Sheets Andrew has replicated this exercise online; enabling the Distance Learning students to take part in the card sorting session.

The Distance Learning and attending students who are enrolled on People, Society and Climate Change this year have been very positive about the use of online technology to provide an inclusive experience:

“Thanks so much for including us via Google hangout. I have really felt part of the course and far more engaged than just communicating via email.”

Not only does Andrew find that involving the Distance Learning students in this way helps to deepen the discussions; this practice also ensures that the small group discussion approach is sustainable. As this is a small cohort of students, should one or two of the attending students be unable to participate, having the Distance Learning students present via the Hangout ensures that discussions and activities remain meaningful.

In conversation, Andrew is now thinking about extending this inclusive approach by utilising other tools that may enable discussions to continue in an online space in between the timetabled sessions. This extension of Andrew’s approach would also help should any of the Distance Learning students be unable to attend virtually. Andrew is also looking to pilot this approach in other post-graduate courses with larger student numbers.

Thank you to Andrew Reeves for agreeing to the production of this blog post.

Ian Pettit
ELT Project Officer

Jun 052015
 

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:

  1. Use a good quality microphone – background noise can reduce the accuracy of the software
  2. Set the software to be as accurate as possible and speak clearly
  3. Skim read the output text before releasing to the student as some specialist words or phrases can be misinterpreted
  4. 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