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

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

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!


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.