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

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.

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

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.

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

Nov 102014

In my experience as a learning technologist in HE there can sometimes be a misconception (and at times assumption) on the part of the teacher that the use of eLearning should inevitably, or to a significant extent at least lead to a more efficient, less labour-intensive work flow. At times, having demonstrated a particular eLearning intervention the question that followed has been something along the lines of “but this means more work for me! I thought eLearning was about making things more efficient?”

This is perhaps an understandable misconception as the implementation of eLearning by definition involves the use of electronic/computer-based technology, generally referred to as IT (or ICT). IT has historically been developed and implemented, to a lesser or greater extent as a labour-saving intervention, to make certain tasks less labour-intensive. Ergo: introducing IT into a particular teaching practice (i.e. eLearning) should ultimately result in less work for the teacher.

But at its core – eLearning is not about creating less work for the teacher – it’s about enhancing teaching and learning.

This is not to say that there aren’t times when the introduction of technology into teaching and learning can potentially, and does indeed lead to a more efficient workflow. But in some of these cases it’s not necessarily about eLearning, what is key here is that the student learning experience is not being enhanced in any significant way. For example, shifting from marking hard copies of essays to marking electronically online (which can be classed as an eLearning intervention) may result in a reduction in time taken to mark the work. But there may be no fundamental enhancing of learning achieved because of this change in practice. One could perhaps argue that if research has shown that students are more likely to read the feedback given to them via electronic marking and feedback than they are with hard copies, then I may have not chosen the best example here – but I hope you can still see my point. Indeed, there can be instances where eLearning does both – enhance teaching and learning and save labour. E.g. implementing eLearning that facilitates more autonomous/independent learning (peer and collaborative learning).

Nevertheless, to reiterate – as its point of departure, eLearning is about enhancing teaching and learning.

Given that there may well be some cans of worms left significantly ajar in what I’ve touched on above. I should perhaps contextualize this via the lens of certain current issues. Given what appears to be a general ‘leaning’ of the HE labour force over recent years (the rounds of voluntary and compulsory severance across the HE sector), one can perhaps understand how anything labour saving would rate high on the priorities of what may be an over-stretched teaching labour force; and given that, in my experience the implementation of eLearning can in some cases lead to an increase in workload, the desire on the part of the teacher to introduce eLearning that isn’t fundamentally labour saving will be diminished. The question, “will this result in more work for me?” may become more prevalent in direct relationship to the labour force ‘over-stretching’ and as a result the desire to engage in the implementation of eLearning will be diminished. Indeed, were we to arrive at a large-scale ‘work to rule’ situation with HE – could we see the ongoing innovation, development and implementation of eLearning across the curriculum becoming an untenable proposition, as teaching staff loading for eLearning does not realistically reflect the investment of time required?

So on the one hand it is important that there is an understanding on the part of teachers as to what eLearning is fundamentally about – Enhancing Learning through Technology (ELT) – and not necessarily labour saving in the first instance. But also an understanding on the part of learning technologists who have a role in catalyzing and driving the implementation of ELT, that the current working environment might lead to a less accommodating attitude to eLearning implementations in direct correlation to the extra time required to implement them.

By Rob Weale

Jul 282014

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:


Jul 022014

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.



Apr 292014

A joint venture with POD and UNISON- 19.05.14 to 23.05.14 

CELT activities –  Monday 19th May and Friday 23rd May  between 12.30pm to 2.30pm in Eric Wood 1.13 

This two-hour slot will contain three bite-sized exhibition style activities that will repeat throughout the two hours: 

  1. How to create audio and visual feedback using screencast software.
  2. Using word 2010 to assist navigation of a PDF.
  3. How to set-up your own website/blog in the DMU Commons.
  • (Each activity is likely to last around 15 -20 minutes) 

How to create audio and visual feedback using screencast software – overview

  • In the hands on session you will create feedback videos using screen capture software. This technique creates feedback where students hear the tutor’s voice and inflection, which adds meaning, significance and enhances students learning of the feedback. 
  • You will learn how to: mark an electronically submitted assignment; save it as video file; and upload it to Blackboard. Where your students can download it as a podcast.

Using word 2010 to assist navigation of a PDF – overview

  • Lengthy PDF documents within Blackboard are often left unread by students. By applying Word2010 tools to that document you can enhance the PDF making it easy to navigate and subtract the information required. Applying this to topics, or highlight significant detail, creates an engaging and inclusive PDF for the different learners in your cohort.
  • Using a typical handbook the hands on session will teach you how to: create a template of headings and subheadings; applying them to the document; and save as a PDF.

How to set-up your own website/blog in the DMU Commons – overview 

  • DMU Commons is based on the WordPress platform. It is used by staff and students across DMU to create a blogging platform, web space, and/or social network tool; linking everyone into one online community.
  • This session will demonstrate and provide you with an understanding on the basics of WordPress. Provide a hands on activity that will allow you to: create a DMU commons account; set up and build a website/blog; and how to maintain the site.
Apr 032014

It’s not as testing as it seems

It was anticipated that students studying their first year of the new Mathematics for Scientific Computing module would take four tests on paper but newly appointed module leader, Dr Sarah Greenfield, had other ideas.

Sarah recognised that the nature of the tests; multiple choice with single correct answers, lends itself to an online format. This not only means that Sarah can have the tests marked by the system but it saves paper and makes the tests re-usable year on year with minor amendments.

One hurdle that was overcome was the use of pictures in one of the tests. The fourth phasetest is a thirteen question test in which each of the questions and each of the four options for each question are presented in picture format.

Sarah talked to the relevant specialist and it was decided that to create this test using the Blackboard Learn Virtual Learning Environment would investigated as this was anticipated that this platform would add the most value by way of time saving and recycling the tests.

With support from the ELT Project Officer, Sarah has been able to efficiently create a bank of questions for Phasetest 4 which comprise of the question image and four answer images per question. It took a few hours to create all of the images so that they all appear consistently but this up-front investment is far out-weighed by the time saved by having the tests marked by the VLE and on an ongoing basis, there is no longer a need to re-write and re-print paper tests every year.

Two issues were encountered:

Firstly, when adding pictures (.jpg format) to the test in the VLE, the default permissions do not include any access for students. This means that although the test appears to be fine for instructors, when students take the test for real, blank spaces appear where the pictures should be.

To overcome this, as the pictures were created, they were saved to a single local directory with meaningful filenames and following an agreed structure/hierarchy. Once all of the pictures had been produced, the entire directory was uploaded to the VLE and the folder permissions were changed to include students with read only permissions. Before submitting, the ‘overwrite’ option was selected and the new student permissions automatically percolated through to the sub-directories and files.

The second issue was how to create the thirteen questions in an efficient manner. Sarah could have created each question individually and browsed for each question and its respective four options images as the questions were created but it was estimated that this would represent the best part of a day’s work.

Instead, Sarah created the first question and using the Edit Test screen twelve copies were taken. Sarah then went into the editor for the second question and amended the question title and so on. However, at this point the images in the copied questions were still showing the images for question one. To save time, instead of removing all of the images and browsing the course for the correct image, Sarah made use of the HTML mode in the editor to point the existing code to the correct image.

For example, this code points toward the third answer option for question one:

<div class="vtbegenerated"><img src="" alt="" style="border: 0px solid rgb(0, 0, 0);" /></div>

The key part here is the “Q1/Q1C.jpg” section of the code. This represents the sub-directory and the filename of this particular image.

Using the HTML mode, Sarah was able to copy and paste this code into each of the questions and amend only the sub-directory and filename to show the correct picture for the correct question and its respective answer options.

For example, this code represents the first answer option in question eight:

<div class="vtbegenerated"><img src="" alt="" style="border: 0px solid rgb(0, 0, 0);" /></div>

Note that the code is almost identical with the exception of the sub-directory and filename which is now “Q8/Q1A.jpg

Using this technique of copy and paste with the HTML mode on, Sarah was able to quickly re-point the links to the relevant picture files in around an hour. This use of HTML mode requires absolutely no knowledge of HTML programming or tags, just a well organised folder to begin with.

Sarah’s students will now sit this phasetest in a computer lab whilst logged into the VLE rather than on paper. This will save Sarah time as there is no longer a need to manually mark the tests and Sarah now has a bank of questions that can be easily added to or amended over the next few years.


Ian Pettit