Enhancing Learning through Technology – the Power (Electronics) is in your hands


Using technology to provide recorded lecture notes and enable electronic marking


Dr John Gow is the Subject Group Leader for Engineering at De Montfort University. John teaches Undergraduate and Postgraduate Power Electronics, he is a project supervisor and an e-champion within the Faculty of Technology.

Ahead of the 2013/14 academic session, John and the Enhancing Learning through Technology (ELT) Project Officer working with the Faculty of Technology embarked on an action planning process to identify the Subject Group’s ELT related priorities and implement initiatives to embed ELT within the Subject Group.

Project Leads
Dr John Gow

Ian Pettit (CELT)

The action planning process resulted in John engaging with different technologies in order to address the priorities. As a result, use cases have been shared amongst colleagues in the Engineering Subject Group to encourage a wider use of technology in the curriculum.

The two key areas for focus were:

  • The recording of classes to provide electronic lecture notes and revision/catch-up material rather than the traditional paper-based materials; and

  • The electronic assessment of summative submissions.

This case study describes the steps that John and the ELT Project Officer have taken to realise these aspirations, the student feedback and impact of using technology to support the teaching and assessment activities in UG and PG Power Electronics, and the intended follow on actions.

The Details

Classroom recording

John’s teaching style is fluid – he ensures that the syllabus is covered throughout the year to ensure the learning outcomes related requirements are met but on a week to week basis, the content could (and often does) vary meaning that John’s sessions are quite adhoc.

This approach is wholly appropriate for John’s students and the subject of Power Electronics as the students have an input into which aspects they are taught each week. John finds this to be a successful teaching model.

For this reason, to produce lecture notes up-front is impossible as based on the areas that students identify at the beginning of each session, the content could be quite different. To make lecture notes available electronically or on paper before each session would be time consuming and potentially wasteful.

In class, John will mainly use simulation software that is loaded onto a memory stick and the whiteboard to teach with.

Therefore, John and the ELT Project Officer explored the use of recording software to produce electronic notes as the sessions are taught to be made available via the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for revision and catch-up purposes.

Initially, screencast software was used but this was not successful in capturing the written (whiteboard) notes that John produces during class. It transpires that these notes are where most of the value is for the students and therefore in capturing only the computer screen with the simulations the value of the notes was lost.

After a conversation, an alternative recording software solution was investigated and John agreed that he would try using the Visualiser in class rather than the whiteboard for writing notes to facilitate the capture of these notes alongside the simulation software being displayed on screen.

Following a couple of trials and a period of testing in 2013/14, John successfully captured approximately six final year undergraduate Power Electronics sessions toward the end of the 2014/15 academic year.

By using the Visualiser, the software is able to capture both screen and Visualiser images simultaneously and with a small amount of editing, the resources can made to switch automatically when students watch them to ensure the students are watching the correct stream at the correct time. Figures 1 and 2 show examples of a resource being viewed and an example of this type of resource can be viewed here.

The software also has a connector that integrates with the VLE so providing links to the resources in good time is not an issue. Timeliness is one of the key criteria for successful lecture capture as detailed in ‘Simple Video Production for Academics, Dean M. J, 2012’.

Students viewing the visualiser

Figure 1. Student view of the notes being created during class

Students viewing the screen content

Figure 2. Student view of the computer screen displaying the simulation software

The use of this technology enables John to produce the lecture notes electronically and ensures that they are relevant to the content of the session without the need for him to invest time in typing up notes after the session.

As a contingency position and to ensure access to materials in a variety of formats, John will also scan the notes that he has written during class and upload these to the VLE as a .pdf. John also makes the simulation files available via the VLE and this gives students the option to download and save a local copy of the notes and files for working with offline as well as having the notes and John’s simulations from the class available in context as part of the online recording.

The majority of John’s students have commented positively regarding the use of recording software in this respect. One student joked that they would not need to attend if sessions are being captured but the nature of the subject does not lend itself to this fully flipped mode and this student soon realised the value of attending and having the recorded resource available.

Although one student joked about attendance, there was a small core of students whose attendance did wain but it cannot be proven that this small instance of non-attendance is attributable to the introduction of classroom recordings or not. The lesson learned here is to ensure that the links to the recorded resources have Statistics Tracking enabled in the VLE and therefore a more meaningful analysis of whether recording teaching does impact attendance can be made.

Use of video lectures was great for revision purposes.
Undergraduate Power Electronics student.

John continued to record his taught sessions throughout the 2015/16 academic year and he has now polished his use of the recording software with Visualiser to such an extent that John now encourages colleagues to take a similar approach – this has led to conversations with colleagues in the Engineering Subject Group with regard to replicating John’s practice.

Electronic assessment

Traditionally, when assessing postgraduate Power Electronics students and final year Project students, John and his colleagues have made use of the TurnItIn system for guidance relating to potential plagiarism and collusion but have also insisted that students submit two hard copies of their final assessment report for marking by hand.

John realised, through conversations with the ELT Project Officer that marking electronically would negate the need for students to print and hand in as well as enable a more efficient/easier marking process as submissions could be accessed through a single device (either online or downloaded local copy) which takes away the need to transport bulky paper copies when marking away from campus.

The first step was to try to replicate the existing process electronically and therefore John borrowed a graphics tablet with stylus and attempted to replicate the practice described here for electronically annotating submissions.

However this technique did not suit John and the nature of the submissions as the student work takes the form of technical reports rather than essays and John found that to write lengthy comments in this manner was not practical.

He then explored alternative methods of electronically marking, including the GradeMark function within TurnItIn but he settled on the use of comments and tracked changes using word processing software as it is critical that John can mark whilst offline.

Using a word processor for comments enables John to write longer comments on the technical aspects of the submission. Using tracked changes also provides a way for John to correct the use of language etc. in the same place.

To enable electronic annotation and feedback John continued to have the students submit to a TurnItIn link via the VLE but instead of printing and handing in, John downloaded the submissions from the assignment inbox to mark electronically but offline.

Regardless of whether the submissions are annotated using a graphics tablet or comments and tracked changes, this downloading of the submissions is the key to enabling electronic assessment in this way.

Once all of the submissions are annotated and when John is back online, he will go to the Grade Centre and upload the annotated submissions for the students to pick up along with their indicative grade on the VLE.

The students find this whole approach to be much easier as they are not required to hand in hard copies any more and using electronic assessment in this way removes the need to decipher hand written comments.

Following John’s initial use of electronic marking techniques, other colleagues supervising projects are now also exploring the use of electronic marking. There are now examples of projects being marked electronically using a variety of methods. Figure 3 shows a colleague marking electronically whilst online using the TurnItIn Grademark function.

Marking using TurnItIn Grademark

Figure 3. An annotated submission in Grademark

The Future

After the initial conversations and support John has continued to request he be timetabled to teach in a classroom where the classroom recording software is available. He has continued to record over the last two academic years and John and the ELT Project Officer have maintained communication. John’s experiences and contribution have informed a wider roll-out of the technology as part of a 3 year Multimedia Enhancement project at DMU.

As the University goes into the 2016/17 academic session, there are plans to further widen this roll-out as part of DMU’s Universal Design for Learning project by introducing a new ‘DMU Replay’ service and associated policy.

The DMU Replay policy expects all Year 0, Level 4 and Postgraduate taught staff-led activities to be recorded and made available to students to replay as required to support their learning. With the input from academic colleagues such as John, the transition from opt-in to opt-out at DMU will be smoothed as students are already benefiting from the value of having resources created in this way and a wealth of experience in the use of such technology has been amassed by the project team.

John and his colleagues continue to mark electronically using word processing software (offline) or online tools such as TurnItIn’s Grademark tool. The students prefer this method due to them not having to print multiple copies of their work. John also finds this technique to be appropriate to the type and style of feedback he administers as well as being convenient and efficient whilst travelling and marking away from campus.

The ELT Project Officer will continue to work with John and the Engineering Subject Group in order to help and support the fine-tuning of John’s use of technology in the curriculum and also to cascade this good practice within the Engineering Subject Group and wider as DMU moves into an era of opt-out classroom recording and a relatively new Assessment and Feedback policy.

Thank you to Dr John Gow for facilitating the production of this case study and for persevering when testing different approaches and technologies.

The classroom recording technology that underpins the new DMU Replay service is Panopto, John uses OpenOffice Writer word processing software and DMU’s VLE is a Blackboard Learn installation.

Ian Pettit
ELT Project Officer
July 2016

CELT Case Studies

DMU Staff

If you would like to have your ELT practice captured and disseminated in a similar case study, please contact your Faculty ELT Project Officer.

This Case Study was prepared by:
Ian Pettit